Little_Women4.txt

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MEG

This note, prettily written on scented paper, was a great contrast to
the next, which was scribbled on a big sheet of thin foreign paper,
ornamented with blots and all manner of flourishes and curly-tailed
letters.

My precious Marmee:

Three cheers for dear Father! Brooke was a trump to telegraph right
off, and let us know the minute he was better. I rushed up garret when
the letter came, and tried to thank god for being so good to us, but I
could only cry, and say, “I’m glad! I’m glad!” Didn’t that do as well
as a regular prayer? For I felt a great many in my heart. We have
such funny times, and now I can enjoy them, for everyone is so
desperately good, it’s like living in a nest of turtledoves. You’d
laugh to see Meg head the table and try to be motherish. She gets
prettier every day, and I’m in love with her sometimes. The children
are regular archangels, and I–well, I’m Jo, and never shall be
anything else. Oh, I must tell you that I came near having a quarrel
with Laurie. I freed my mind about a silly little thing, and he was
offended. I was right, but didn’t speak as I ought, and he marched
home, saying he wouldn’t come again till I begged pardon. I declared I
wouldn’t and got mad. It lasted all day. I felt bad and wanted you
very much. Laurie and I are both so proud, it’s hard to beg pardon.
But I thought he’d come to it, for I was in the right. He didn’t come,
and just at night I remembered what you said when Amy fell into the
river. I read my little book, felt better, resolved not to let the sun
set on my anger, and ran over to tell Laurie I was sorry. I met him at
the gate, coming for the same thing. We both laughed, begged each
other’s pardon, and felt all good and comfortable again.

I made a ‘pome’ yesterday, when I was helping Hannah wash, and as
Father likes my silly little things, I put it in to amuse him. Give
him my lovingest hug that ever was, and kiss yourself a dozen times for
your…

TOPSY-TURVY JO

A SONG FROM THE SUDS

Queen of my tub, I merrily sing,
While the white foam rises high,
And sturdily wash and rinse and wring,
And fasten the clothes to dry.
Then out in the free fresh air they swing,
Under the sunny sky.

I wish we could wash from our hearts and souls
The stains of the week away,
And let water and air by their magic make
Ourselves as pure as they.
Then on the earth there would be indeed,
A glorious washing day!

Along the path of a useful life,
Will 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. Everyone is very kind, and we are as happy as we can be without
you. Amy wants the rest of the page, so I must stop. I didn’t forget
to cover the holders, and I wind the clock and air the rooms every day.

Kiss dear Father on the cheek he calls mine. Oh, do come soon to your
loving…

LITTLE BETH

Ma Chere Mamma,

We are all well I do my lessons always and never corroberate the
girls–Meg says I mean contradick so I put in both words and you can
take the properest. Meg is a great comfort to me and lets me have
jelly every night at tea its so good for me Jo says because it keeps me
sweet tempered. Laurie is not as respeckful as he ought to be now I am
almost in my teens, he calls me Chick and hurts my feelings by talking
French to me very fast when I say Merci or Bon jour as Hattie King
does. The sleeves of my blue dress were all worn out, and Meg put in
new ones, but the full front came wrong and they are more blue than the
dress. I felt bad but did not fret I bear my troubles well but I do
wish Hannah would put more starch in my aprons and have buckwheats
every day. Can’t she? Didn’t I make that interrigation point nice?
Meg says my punchtuation and spelling are disgraceful and I am
mortyfied but dear me I have so many things to do, I can’t stop.
Adieu, I send heaps of love to Papa. Your affectionate daughter…

AMY CURTIS MARCH

Dear Mis March,

I jes drop a line to say we git on fust rate. The girls is clever and
fly round right smart. Miss Meg is going to make a proper good
housekeeper. She hes the liking for it, and gits the hang of things
surprisin quick. Jo doos beat all for goin ahead, but she don’t stop
to cal’k’late fust, and you never know where she’s like to bring up.
She done out a tub of clothes on Monday, but she starched 'em afore
they was wrenched, and blued a pink calico dress till I thought I
should a died a laughin. Beth is the best of little creeters, and a
sight of help to me, bein so forehanded and dependable. She tries to
learn everything, and really goes to market beyond her years, likewise
keeps accounts, with my help, quite wonderful. We have got on very
economical so fur. I don’t let the girls hev coffee only once a week,
accordin to your wish, and keep em on plain wholesome vittles. Amy
does well without frettin, wearin her best clothes and eatin sweet
stuff. Mr. Laurie is as full of didoes as usual, and turns the house
upside down frequent, but he heartens the girls, so I let em hev full
swing. The old gentleman sends heaps of things, and is rather wearin,
but means wal, and it aint my place to say nothin. My bread is riz, so
no more at this time. I send my duty to Mr. March, and hope he’s seen
the last of his Pewmonia.

Yours respectful,

Hannah Mullet

Head Nurse of Ward No. 2,

All serene on the Rappahannock, troops in fine condition, commisary
department well conducted, the Home Guard under Colonel Teddy always on
duty, Commander in Chief General Laurence reviews the army daily,
Quartermaster Mullet keeps order in camp, and Major Lion does picket
duty at night. A salute of twenty-four guns was fired on receipt of
good news from Washington, and a dress parade took place at
headquarters. Commander in chief sends best wishes, in which he is
heartily joined by…

COLONEL TEDDY

Dear Madam:

The little girls are all well. Beth and my boy report daily. Hannah is
a model servant, and guards pretty Meg like a dragon. Glad the fine
weather holds. Pray make Brooke useful, and draw on me for funds if
expenses exceed your estimate. Don’t let your husband want anything.
Thank God he is mending.

Your sincere friend and servant, JAMES LAURENCE

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

LITTLE FAITHFUL

For a week the amount of virtue in the old house would have supplied
the neighborhood. It was really amazing, for everyone seemed in a
heavenly frame of mind, and self-denial was all the fashion. Relieved
of their first anxiety about their father, the girls insensibly relaxed
their praiseworthy efforts a little, and began to fall back into old
ways. They did not forget their motto, but hoping and keeping busy
seemed to grow easier, and after such tremendous exertions, they felt
that Endeavor deserved a holiday, and gave it a good many.

Jo caught a bad cold through neglect to cover the shorn head enough,
and was ordered to stay at home till she was better, for Aunt March
didn’t like to hear people read with colds in their heads. Jo liked
this, and after an energetic rummage from garret to cellar, subsided on
the sofa to nurse her cold with arsenicum and books. Amy found that
housework and art did not go well together, and returned to her mud
pies. Meg went daily to her pupils, and sewed, or thought she did, at
home, but much time was spent in writing long letters to her mother, or
reading the Washington dispatches over and over. Beth kept on, with
only slight relapses into idleness or grieving.

All the little duties were faithfully done each day, and many of her
sisters’ also, for they were forgetful, and the house seemed like a
clock whose pendulum was gone a-visiting. When her heart got heavy
with longings for Mother or fears for Father, she went away into a
certain closet, hid her face in the folds of a dear old gown, and made
her little moan and prayed her little prayer quietly by herself.
Nobody knew what cheered her up after a sober fit, but everyone felt
how sweet and helpful Beth was, and fell into a way of going to her for
comfort or advice in their small affairs.

All were unconscious that this experience was a test of character, and
when the first excitement was over, felt that they had done well and
deserved praise. So they did, but their mistake was in ceasing to do
well, and they learned this lesson through much anxiety and regret.

“Meg, I wish you’d go and see the Hummels. You know Mother told us not
to forget them.” said Beth, ten days after Mrs. March’s departure.

“I’m too tired to go this afternoon,” replied Meg, rocking comfortably
as she sewed.

“Can’t you, Jo?” asked Beth.

“Too stormy for me with my cold.”

“I thought it was almost well.”

“It’s well enough for me to go out with Laurie, but not well enough to
go to the Hummels’,” said Jo, laughing, but looking a little ashamed of
her inconsistency.

“Why don’t you go yourself?” asked Meg.

“I have been every day, but the baby is sick, and I don’t know what to
do for it. Mrs. Hummel goes away to work, and Lottchen takes care of
it. But it gets sicker and sicker, and I think you or Hannah ought to
go.”

Beth spoke earnestly, and Meg promised she would go tomorrow.

“Ask Hannah for some nice little mess, and take it round, Beth, the air
will do you good,” said Jo, adding apologetically, “I’d go but I want
to finish my writing.”

“My head aches and I’m tired, so I thought maybe some of you would go,”
said Beth.

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

So Beth lay down on the sofa, the others returned to their work, and
the Hummels were forgotten. An hour passed. Amy did not come, Meg
went to her room to try on a new dress, Jo was absorbed in her story,
and Hannah was sound asleep before the kitchen fire, when Beth quietly
put on her hood, filled her basket with odds and ends for the poor
children, and went out into the chilly air with a heavy head and a
grieved look in her patient eyes. It was late when she came back, and
no one saw her creep upstairs and shut herself into her mother’s room.
Half an hour after, Jo went to ‘Mother’s closet’ for something, and
there found little Beth sitting on the medicine chest, looking very
grave, with red eyes and a camphor bottle in her hand.

“Christopher Columbus! What’s the matter?” cried Jo, as Beth put out
her hand as if to warn her off, and asked quickly. . .

“You’ve had the scarlet fever, haven’t you?”

“Years ago, when Meg did. Why?”

“Then I’ll tell you. Oh, Jo, the baby’s dead!”

“What baby?”

“Mrs. Hummel’s. It died in my lap before she got home,” cried Beth
with a sob.

“My poor dear, how dreadful for you! I ought to have gone,” said Jo,
taking her sister in her arms as she sat down in her mother’s big
chair, with a remorseful face.

“It wasn’t dreadful, Jo, only so sad! I saw in a minute it was sicker,
but Lottchen said her mother had gone for a doctor, so I took Baby and
let Lotty rest. It seemed asleep, but all of a sudden if gave a little
cry and trembled, and then lay very still. I tried to warm its feet,
and Lotty gave it some milk, but it didn’t stir, and I knew it was
dead.”

“Don’t cry, dear! What did you do?”

“I just sat and held it softly till Mrs. Hummel came with the doctor.
He said it was dead, and looked at Heinrich and Minna, who have sore
throats. ‘Scarlet fever, ma’am. Ought to have called me before,’ he
said crossly. Mrs. Hummel told him she was poor, and had tried to cure
baby herself, but now it was too late, and she could only ask him to
help the others and trust to charity for his pay. He smiled then, and
was kinder, but it was very sad, and I cried with them till he turned
round all of a sudden, and told me to go home and take belladonna right
away, or I’d have the fever.”

“No, you won’t!” cried Jo, hugging her close, with a frightened look.
“Oh, Beth, if you should be sick I never could forgive myself! What
shall we do?”

“Don’t be frightened, I guess I shan’t have it badly. I looked in
Mother’s book, and saw that it begins with headache, sore throat, and
queer feelings like mine, so I did take some belladonna, and I feel
better,” said Beth, laying her cold hands on her hot forehead and
trying to look well.

“If Mother was only at home!” exclaimed Jo, seizing the book, and
feeling that Washington was an immense way off. She read a page,
looked at Beth, felt her head, peeped into her throat, and then said
gravely, “You’ve been over the baby every day for more than a week, and
among the others who are going to have it, so I’m afraid you are going
to have it, Beth. I’ll call Hannah, she knows all about sickness.”

“Don’t let Amy come. She never had it, and I should hate to give it to
her. Can’t you and Meg have it over again?” asked Beth, anxiously.

“I guess not. Don’t care if I do. Serve me right, selfish pig, to let
you go, and stay writing rubbish myself!” muttered Jo, as she went to
consult Hannah.

The good soul was wide awake in a minute, and took the lead at once,
assuring that there was no need to worry; every one had scarlet fever,
and if rightly treated, nobody died, all of which Jo believed, and felt
much relieved as they went up to call Meg.

“Now I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” said Hannah, when she had examined
and questioned Beth, “we will have Dr. Bangs, just to take a look at
you, dear, and see that we start right. Then we’ll send Amy off to
Aunt March’s for a spell, to keep her out of harm’s way, and one of you
girls can stay at home and amuse Beth for a day or two.”

“I shall stay, of course, I’m oldest,” began Meg, looking anxious and
self-reproachful.

“I shall, because it’s my fault she is sick. I told Mother I’d do the
errands, and I haven’t,” said Jo decidedly.

“Which will you have, Beth? There ain’t no need of but one,” aid
Hannah.

“Jo, please.” And Beth leaned her head against her sister with a
contented look, which effectually settled that point.

“I’ll go and tell Amy,” said Meg, feeling a little hurt, yet rather
relieved on the whole, for she did not like nursing, and Jo did.

Amy rebelled outright, and passionately declared that she had rather
have the fever than go to Aunt March. Meg reasoned, pleaded, and
commanded, all in vain. Amy protested that she would not go, and Meg
left her in despair to ask Hannah what should be done. Before she came
back, Laurie walked into the parlor to find Amy sobbing, with her head
in the sofa cushions. She told her story, expecting to be consoled,
but Laurie only put his hands in his pockets and walked about the room,
whistling softly, as he knit his brows in deep thought. Presently he
sat down beside her, and said, in his most wheedlesome tone, “Now be a
sensible little woman, and do as they say. No, don’t cry, but hear what
a jolly plan I’ve got. You go to Aunt March’s, and I’ll come and take
you out every day, driving or walking, and we’ll have capital times.
Won’t that be better than moping here?”

“I don’t wish to be sent off as if I was in the way,” began Amy, in an
injured voice.

“Bless your heart, child, it’s to keep you well. You don’t want to be
sick, do you?”

“No, I’m sure I don’t, but I dare say I shall be, for I’ve been with
Beth all the time.”

“That’s the very reason you ought to go away at once, so that you may
escape it. Change of air and care will keep you well, I dare say, or
if it does not entirely, you will have the fever more lightly. I
advise you to be off as soon as you can, for scarlet fever is no joke,
miss.”

“But it’s dull at Aunt March’s, and she is so cross,” said Amy, looking
rather frightened.

“It won’t be dull with me popping in every day to tell you how Beth is,
and take you out gallivanting. The old lady likes me, and I’ll be as
sweet as possible to her, so she won’t peck at us, whatever we do.”

“Will you take me out in the trotting wagon with Puck?”

“On my honor as a gentleman.”

“And come every single day?”

“See if I don’t!”

“And bring me back the minute Beth is well?”

“The identical minute.”

“And go to the theater, truly?”

“A dozen theaters, if we may.”

“Well–I guess I will,” said Amy slowly.

“Good girl! Call Meg, and tell her you’ll give in,” said Laurie, with
an approving pat, which annoyed Amy more than the ‘giving in’.

Meg and Jo came running down to behold the miracle which had been
wrought, and Amy, feeling very precious and self-sacrificing, promised
to go, if the doctor said Beth was going to be ill.

“How is the little dear?” asked Laurie, for Beth was his especial pet,
and he felt more anxious about her than he liked to show.

“She is lying down on Mother’s bed, and feels better. The baby’s death
troubled her, but I dare say she has only got cold. Hannah says she
thinks so, but she looks worried, and that makes me fidgety,” answered
Meg.

“What a trying world it is!” said Jo, rumpling up her hair in a fretful
way. “No sooner do we get out of one trouble than down comes another.
There doesn’t seem to be anything to hold on to when Mother’s gone, so
I’m all at sea.”

“Well, don’t make a porcupine of yourself, it isn’t becoming. Settle
your wig, Jo, and tell me if I shall telegraph to your mother, or do
anything?” asked Laurie, who never had been reconciled to the loss of
his friend’s one beauty.

“That is what troubles me,” said Meg. “I think we ought to tell her if
Beth is really ill, but Hannah says we mustn’t, for Mother can’t leave
Father, and it will only make them anxious. Beth won’t be sick long,
and Hannah knows just what to do, and Mother said we were to mind her,
so I suppose we must, but it doesn’t seem quite right to me.”

“Hum, well, I can’t say. Suppose you ask Grandfather after the doctor
has been.”

“We will. Jo, go and get Dr. Bangs at once,” commanded Meg. “We can’t
decide anything till he has been.”

“Stay where you are, Jo. I’m errand boy to this establishment,” said
Laurie, taking up his cap.

“I’m afraid you are busy,” began Meg.

“No, I’ve done my lessons for the day.”

“Do you study in vacation time?” asked Jo.

“I follow the good example my neighbors set me,” was Laurie’s answer,
as he swung himself out of the room.

“I have great hopes for my boy,” observed Jo, watching him fly over the
fence with an approving smile.

“He does very well, for a boy,” was Meg’s somewhat ungracious answer,
for the subject did not interest her.

Dr. Bangs came, said Beth had symptoms of the fever, but he thought she
would have it lightly, though he looked sober over the Hummel story.
Amy was ordered off at once, and provided with something to ward off
danger, she departed in great state, with Jo and Laurie as escort.

Aunt March received them with her usual hospitality.

“What do you want now?” she asked, looking sharply over her spectacles,
while the parrot, sitting on the back of her chair, called out…

“Go away. No boys allowed here.”

Laurie retired to the window, and Jo told her story.

“No more than I expected, if you are allowed to go poking about among
poor folks. Amy can stay and make herself useful if she isn’t sick,
which I’ve no doubt she will be, looks like it now. Don’t cry, child,
it worries me to hear people sniff.”

Amy was on the point of crying, but Laurie slyly pulled the parrot’s
tail, which caused Polly to utter an astonished croak and call out,
“Bless my boots!” in such a funny way, that she laughed instead.

“What do you hear from your mother?” asked the old lady gruffly.

“Father is much better,” replied Jo, trying to keep sober.

“Oh, is he? Well, that won’t last long, I fancy. March never had any
stamina,” was the cheerful reply.

“Ha, ha! Never say die, take a pinch of snuff, goodbye, goodbye!”
squalled Polly, dancing on her perch, and clawing at the old lady’s cap
as Laurie tweaked him in the rear.

“Hold your tongue, you disrespectful old bird! And, Jo, you’d better
go at once. It isn’t proper to be gadding about so late with a
rattlepated boy like…”

“Hold your tongue, you disrespectful old bird!” cried Polly, tumbling
off the chair with a bounce, and running to peck the ‘rattlepated’ boy,
who was shaking with laughter at the last speech.

“I don’t think I can bear it, but I’ll try,” thought Amy, as she was
left alone with Aunt March.

“Get along, you fright!” screamed Polly, and at that rude speech Amy
could not restrain a sniff.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

DARK DAYS

Beth did have the fever, and was much sicker than anyone but Hannah and
the doctor suspected. The girls knew nothing about illness, and Mr.
Laurence was not allowed to see her, so Hannah had everything her own
way, and busy Dr. Bangs did his best, but left a good deal to the
excellent nurse. Meg stayed at home, lest she should infect the Kings,
and kept house, feeling very anxious and a little guilty when she wrote
letters in which no mention was made of Beth’s illness. She could not
think it right to deceive her mother, but she had been bidden to mind
Hannah, and Hannah wouldn’t hear of ‘Mrs. March bein’ told, and worried
just for sech a trifle.’

Jo devoted herself to Beth day and night, not a hard task, for Beth was
very patient, and bore her pain uncomplainingly as long as she could
control herself. But there came a time when during the fever fits she
began to talk in a hoarse, broken voice, to play on the coverlet as if
on her beloved little piano, and try to sing with a throat so swollen
that there was no music left, a time when she did not know the familiar
faces around her, but addressed them by wrong names, and called
imploringly for her mother. Then Jo grew frightened, Meg begged to be
allowed to write the truth, and even Hannah said she ‘would think of
it, though there was no danger yet’. A letter from Washington added to
their trouble, for Mr. March had had a relapse, and could not think of
coming home for a long while.

How dark the days seemed now, how sad and lonely the house, and how
heavy were the hearts of the sisters as they worked and waited, while
the shadow of death hovered over the once happy home. Then it was that
Margaret, sitting alone with tears dropping often on her work, felt how
rich she had been in things more precious than any luxuries money could
buy–in love, protection, peace, and health, the real blessings of
life. Then it was that Jo, living in the darkened room, with that
suffering little sister always before her eyes and that pathetic voice
sounding in her ears, learned to see the beauty and the sweetness of
Beth’s nature, to feel how deep and tender a place she filled in all
hearts, and to acknowledge the worth of Beth’s unselfish ambition to
live for others, and make home happy by that exercise of those simple
virtues which all may possess, and which all should love and value more
than talent, wealth, or beauty. And Amy, in her exile, longed eagerly
to be at home, that she might work for Beth, feeling now that no
service would be hard or irksome, and remembering, with regretful
grief, how many neglected tasks those willing hands had done for her.
Laurie haunted the house like a restless ghost, and Mr. Laurence locked
the grand piano, because he could not bear to be reminded of the young
neighbor who used to make the twilight pleasant for him. Everyone
missed Beth. The milkman, baker, grocer, and butcher inquired how she
did, poor Mrs. Hummel came to beg pardon for her thoughtlessness and to
get a shroud for Minna, the neighbors sent all sorts of comforts and
good wishes, and even those who knew her best were surprised to find
how many friends shy little Beth had made.

Meanwhile she lay on her bed with old Joanna at her side, for even in
her wanderings she did not forget her forlorn protege. She longed for
her cats, but would not have them brought, lest they should get sick,
and in her quiet hours she was full of anxiety about Jo. She sent
loving messages to Amy, bade them tell her mother that she would write
soon, and often begged for pencil and paper to try to say a word, that
Father might not think she had neglected him. But soon even these
intervals of consciousness ended, and she lay hour after hour, tossing
to and fro, with incoherent words on her lips, or sank into a heavy
sleep which brought her no refreshment. Dr. Bangs came twice a day,
Hannah sat up at night, Meg kept a telegram in her desk all ready to
send off at any minute, and Jo never stirred from Beth’s side.

The first of December was a wintry day indeed to them, for a bitter
wind blew, snow fell fast, and the year seemed getting ready for its
death. When Dr. Bangs came that morning, he looked long at Beth, held
the hot hand in both his own for a minute, and laid it gently down,
saying, in a low voice to Hannah, “If Mrs. March can leave her husband
she’d better be sent for.”

Hannah nodded without speaking, for her lips twitched nervously, Meg
dropped down into a chair as the strength seemed to go out of her limbs
at the sound of those words, and Jo, standing with a pale face for a
minute, ran to the parlor, snatched up the telegram, and throwing on
her things, rushed out into the storm. She was soon back, and while
noiselessly taking off her cloak, Laurie came in with a letter, saying
that Mr. March was mending again. Jo read it thankfully, but the heavy
weight did not seem lifted off her heart, and her face was so full of
misery that Laurie asked quickly, “What is it? Is Beth worse?”

“I’ve sent for Mother,” said Jo, tugging at her rubber boots with a
tragic expression.

“Good for you, Jo! Did you do it on your own responsibility?” asked
Laurie, as he seated her in the hall chair and took off the rebellious
boots, seeing how her hands shook.

“No. The doctor told us to.”

“Oh, Jo, it’s not so bad as that?” cried Laurie, with a startled face.

“Yes, it is. She doesn’t know us, she doesn’t even talk about the
flocks of green doves, as she calls the vine leaves on the wall. She
doesn’t look like my Beth, and there’s nobody to help us bear it.
Mother and father both gone, and God seems so far away I can’t find
Him.”

As the tears streamed fast down poor Jo’s cheeks, she stretched out her
hand in a helpless sort of way, as if groping in the dark, and Laurie
took it in his, whispering as well as he could with a lump in his
throat, “I’m here. Hold on to me, Jo, dear!”

She could not speak, but she did ‘hold on’, and the warm grasp of the
friendly human hand comforted her sore heart, and seemed to lead her
nearer to the Divine arm which alone could uphold her in her trouble.

Laurie longed to say something tender and comfortable, but no fitting
words came to him, so he stood silent, gently stroking her bent head as
her mother used to do. It was the best thing he could have done, far
more soothing than the most eloquent words, for Jo felt the unspoken
sympathy, and in the silence learned the sweet solace which affection
administers to sorrow. Soon she dried the tears which had relieved
her, and looked up with a grateful face.

“Thank you, Teddy, I’m better now. I don’t feel so forlorn, and will
try to bear it if it comes.”

“Keep hoping for the best, that will help you, Jo. Soon your mother
will be here, and then everything will be all right.”

“I’m so glad Father is better. Now she won’t feel so bad about leaving
him. Oh, me! It does seem as if all the troubles came in a heap, and
I got the heaviest part on my shoulders,” sighed Jo, spreading her wet
handkerchief over her knees to dry.

“Doesn’t Meg pull fair?” asked Laurie, looking indignant.

“Oh, yes, she tries to, but she can’t love Bethy as I do, and she won’t
miss her as I shall. Beth is my conscience, and I can’t give her up.
I can’t! I can’t!”

Down went Jo’s face into the wet handkerchief, and she cried
despairingly, for she had kept up bravely till now and never shed a
tear. Laurie drew his hand across his eyes, but could not speak till
he had subdued the choky feeling in his throat and steadied his lips.
It might be unmanly, but he couldn’t help it, and I am glad of it.
Presently, as Jo’s sobs quieted, he said hopefully, “I don’t think she
will die. She’s so good, and we all love her so much, I don’t believe
God will take her away yet.”

“The good and dear people always do die,” groaned Jo, but she stopped
crying, for her friend’s words cheered her up in spite of her own
doubts and fears.

“Poor girl, you’re worn out. It isn’t like you to be forlorn. Stop a
bit. I’ll hearten you up in a jiffy.”

Laurie went off two stairs at a time, and Jo laid her wearied head down
on Beth’s little brown hood, which no one had thought of moving from
the table where she left it. It must have possessed some magic, for
the submissive spirit of its gentle owner seemed to enter into Jo, and
when Laurie came running down with a glass of wine, she took it with a
smile, and said bravely, “I drink-- Health to my Beth! You are a good
doctor, Teddy, and such a comfortable friend. How can I ever pay you?”
she added, as the wine refreshed her body, as the kind words had done
her troubled mind.

“I’ll send my bill, by-and-by, and tonight I’ll give you something that
will warm the cockles of your heart better than quarts of wine,” said
Laurie, beaming at her with a face of suppressed satisfaction at
something.

“What is it?” cried Jo, forgetting her woes for a minute in her wonder.

“I telegraphed to your mother yesterday, and Brooke answered she’d come
at once, and she’ll be here tonight, and everything will be all right.
Aren’t you glad I did it?”

Laurie spoke very fast, and turned red and excited all in a minute, for
he had kept his plot a secret, for fear of disappointing the girls or
harming Beth. Jo grew quite white, flew out of her chair, and the
moment he stopped speaking she electrified him by throwing her arms
round his neck, and crying out, with a joyful cry, “Oh, Laurie! Oh,
Mother! I am so glad!” She did not weep again, but laughed
hysterically, and trembled and clung to her friend as if she was a
little bewildered by the sudden news.

Laurie, though decidedly amazed, behaved with great presence of mind.
He patted her back soothingly, and finding that she was recovering,
followed it up by a bashful kiss or two, which brought Jo round at
once. Holding on to the banisters, she put him gently away, saying
breathlessly, “Oh, don’t! I didn’t mean to, it was dreadful of me, but
you were such a dear to go and do it in spite of Hannah that I couldn’t
help flying at you. Tell me all about it, and don’t give me wine
again, it makes me act so.”

“I don’t mind,” laughed Laurie, as he settled his tie. “Why, you see I
got fidgety, and so did Grandpa. We thought Hannah was overdoing the
authority business, and your mother ought to know. She’d never forgive
us if Beth… Well, if anything happened, you know. So I got grandpa
to say it was high time we did something, and off I pelted to the
office yesterday, for the doctor looked sober, and Hannah most took my
head off when I proposed a telegram. I never can bear to be ‘lorded
over’, so that settled my mind, and I did it. Your mother will come, I
know, and the late train is in at two A.M. I shall go for her, and
you’ve only got to bottle up your rapture, and keep Beth quiet till
that blessed lady gets here.”

“Laurie, you’re an angel! How shall I ever thank you?”

“Fly at me again. I rather liked it,” said Laurie, looking
mischievous, a thing he had not done for a fortnight.

“No, thank you. I’ll do it by proxy, when your grandpa comes. Don’t
tease, but go home and rest, for you’ll be up half the night. Bless
you, Teddy, bless you!”

Jo had backed into a corner, and as she finished her speech, she
vanished precipitately into the kitchen, where she sat down upon a
dresser and told the assembled cats that she was “happy, oh, so happy!”
while Laurie departed, feeling that he had made a rather neat thing of
it.

“That’s the interferingest chap I ever see, but I forgive him and do
hope Mrs. March is coming right away,” said Hannah, with an air of
relief, when Jo told the good news.

Meg had a quiet rapture, and then brooded over the letter, while Jo set
the sickroom in order, and Hannah “knocked up a couple of pies in case
of company unexpected”. A breath of fresh air seemed to blow through
the house, and something better than sunshine brightened the quiet
rooms. Everything appeared to feel the hopeful change. Beth’s bird
began to chirp again, and a half-blown rose was discovered on Amy’s
bush in the window. The fires seemed to burn with unusual cheeriness,
and every time the girls met, their pale faces broke into smiles as
they hugged one another, whispering encouragingly, “Mother’s coming,
dear! Mother’s coming!” Every one rejoiced but Beth. She lay in that
heavy stupor, alike unconscious of hope and joy, doubt and danger. It
was a piteous sight, the once rosy face so changed and vacant, the once
busy hands so weak and wasted, the once smiling lips quite dumb, and
the once pretty, well-kept hair scattered rough and tangled on the
pillow. All day she lay so, only rousing now and then to mutter,
“Water!” with lips so parched they could hardly shape the word. All
day Jo and Meg hovered over her, watching, waiting, hoping, and
trusting in God and Mother, and all day the snow fell, the bitter wind
raged, and the hours dragged slowly by. But night came at last, and
every time the clock struck, the sisters, still sitting on either side
of the bed, looked at each other with brightening eyes, for each hour
brought help nearer. The doctor had been in to say that some change,
for better or worse, would probably take place about midnight, at which
time he would return.

Hannah, quite worn out, lay down on the sofa at the bed’s foot and fell
fast asleep, Mr. Laurence marched to and fro in the parlor, feeling
that he would rather face a rebel battery than Mrs. March’s countenance
as she entered. Laurie lay on the rug, pretending to rest, but staring
into the fire with the thoughtful look which made his black eyes
beautifully soft and clear.

The girls never forgot that night, for no sleep came to them as they
kept their watch, with that dreadful sense of powerlessness which comes
to us in hours like those.

“If God spares Beth, I never will complain again,” whispered Meg
earnestly.

“If god spares Beth, I’ll try to love and serve Him all my life,”
answered Jo, with equal fervor.

“I wish I had no heart, it aches so,” sighed Meg, after a pause.

“If life is often as hard as this, I don’t see how we ever shall get
through it,” added her sister despondently.

Here the clock struck twelve, and both forgot themselves in watching
Beth, for they fancied a change passed over her wan face. The house was
still as death, and nothing but the wailing of the wind broke the deep
hush. Weary Hannah slept on, and no one but the sisters saw the pale
shadow which seemed to fall upon the little bed. An hour went by, and
nothing happened except Laurie’s quiet departure for the station.
Another hour, still no one came, and anxious fears of delay in the
storm, or accidents by the way, or, worst of all, a great grief at
Washington, haunted the girls.

It was past two, when Jo, who stood at the window thinking how dreary
the world looked in its winding sheet of snow, heard a movement by the
bed, and turning quickly, saw Meg kneeling before their mother’s easy
chair with her face hidden. A dreadful fear passed coldly over Jo, as
she thought, “Beth is dead, and Meg is afraid to tell me.”

She was back at her post in an instant, and to her excited eyes a great
change seemed to have taken place. The fever flush and the look of
pain were gone, and the beloved little face looked so pale and peaceful
in its utter repose that Jo felt no desire to weep or to lament.
Leaning low over this dearest of her sisters, she kissed the damp
forehead with her heart on her lips, and softly whispered, “Good-by, my
Beth. Good-by!”

As if awaked by the stir, Hannah started out of her sleep, hurried to
the bed, looked at Beth, felt her hands, listened at her lips, and
then, throwing her apron over her head, sat down to rock to and fro,
exclaiming, under her breath, “The fever’s turned, she’s sleepin’
nat’ral, her skin’s damp, and she breathes easy. Praise be given! Oh,
my goodness me!”

Before the girls could believe the happy truth, the doctor came to
confirm it. He was a homely man, but they thought his face quite
heavenly when he smiled and said, with a fatherly look at them, “Yes,
my dears, I think the little girl will pull through this time. Keep
the house quiet, let her sleep, and when she wakes, give her…”

What they were to give, neither heard, for both crept into the dark
hall, and, sitting on the stairs, held each other close, rejoicing with
hearts too full for words. When they went back to be kissed and
cuddled by faithful Hannah, they found Beth lying, as she used to do,
with her cheek pillowed on her hand, the dreadful pallor gone, and
breathing quietly, as if just fallen asleep.

“If Mother would only come now!” said Jo, as the winter night began to
wane.

“See,” said Meg, coming up with a white, half-opened rose, “I thought
this would hardly be ready to lay in Beth’s hand tomorrow if she–went
away from us. But it has blossomed in the night, and now I mean to put
it in my vase here, so that when the darling wakes, the first thing she
sees will be the little rose, and Mother’s face.”

Never had the sun risen so beautifully, and never had the world seemed
so lovely as it did to the heavy eyes of Meg and Jo, as they looked out
in the early morning, when their long, sad vigil was done.

“It looks like a fairy world,” said Meg, smiling to herself, as she
stood behind the curtain, watching the dazzling sight.

“Hark!” cried Jo, starting to her feet.

Yes, there was a sound of bells at the door below, a cry from Hannah,
and then Laurie’s voice saying in a joyful whisper, “Girls, she’s come!
She’s come!”

CHAPTER NINETEEN

AMY’S WILL

While these things were happening at home, Amy was having hard times at
Aunt March’s. She felt her exile deeply, and for the first time in her
life, realized how much she was beloved and petted at home. Aunt March
never petted any one; she did not approve of it, but she meant to be
kind, for the well-behaved little girl pleased her very much, and Aunt
March had a soft place in her old heart for her nephew’s children,
though she didn’t think it proper to confess it. She really did her
best to make Amy happy, but, dear me, what mistakes she made. Some old
people keep young at heart in spite of wrinkles and gray hairs, can
sympathize with children’s little cares and joys, make them feel at
home, and can hide wise lessons under pleasant plays, giving and
receiving friendship in the sweetest way. But Aunt March had not this
gift, and she worried Amy very much with her rules and orders, her prim
ways, and long, prosy talks. Finding the child more docile and amiable
than her sister, the old lady felt it her duty to try and counteract,
as far as possible, the bad effects of home freedom and indulgence. So
she took Amy by the hand, and taught her as she herself had been taught
sixty years ago, a process which carried dismay to Amy’s soul, and made
her feel like a fly in the web of a very strict spider.

She had to wash the cups every morning, and polish up the old-fashioned
spoons, the fat silver teapot, and the glasses till they shone. Then
she must dust the room, and what a trying job that was. Not a speck
escaped Aunt March’s eye, and all the furniture had claw legs and much
carving, which was never dusted to suit. Then Polly had to be fed, the
lap dog combed, and a dozen trips upstairs and down to get things or
deliver orders, for the old lady was very lame and seldom left her big
chair. After these tiresome labors, she must do her lessons, which was
a daily trial of every virtue she possessed. Then she was allowed one
hour for exercise or play, and didn’t she enjoy it?

Laurie came every day, and wheedled Aunt March till Amy was allowed to
go out with him, when they walked and rode and had capital times.
After dinner, she had to read aloud, and sit still while the old lady
slept, which she usually did for an hour, as she dropped off over the
first page. Then patchwork or towels appeared, and Amy sewed with
outward meekness and inward rebellion till dusk, when she was allowed
to amuse herself as she liked till teatime. The evenings were the
worst of all, for Aunt March fell to telling long stories about her
youth, which were so unutterably dull that Amy was always ready to go
to bed, intending to cry over her hard fate, but usually going to sleep
before she had squeezed out more than a tear or two.

If it had not been for Laurie, and old Esther, the maid, she felt that
she never could have got through that dreadful time. The parrot alone
was enough to drive her distracted, for he soon felt that she did not
admire him, and revenged himself by being as mischievous as possible.
He pulled her hair whenever she came near him, upset his bread and milk
to plague her when she had newly cleaned his cage, made Mop bark by
pecking at him while Madam dozed, called her names before company, and
behaved in all respects like an reprehensible old bird. Then she could
not endure the dog, a fat, cross beast who snarled and yelped at her
when she made his toilet, and who lay on his back with all his legs in
the air and a most idiotic expression of countenance when he wanted
something to eat, which was about a dozen times a day. The cook was
bad-tempered, the old coachman was deaf, and Esther the only one who
ever took any notice of the young lady.

Esther was a Frenchwoman, who had lived with ‘Madame’, as she called her
mistress, for many years, and who rather tyrannized over the old lady,
who could not get along without her. Her real name was Estelle, but
Aunt March ordered her to change it, and she obeyed, on condition that
she was never asked to change her religion. She took a fancy to
Mademoiselle, and amused her very much with odd stories of her life in
France, when Amy sat with her while she got up Madame’s laces. She
also allowed her to roam about the great house, and examine the curious
and pretty things stored away in the big wardrobes and the ancient
chests, for Aunt March hoarded like a magpie. Amy’s chief delight was
an Indian cabinet, full of queer drawers, little pigeonholes, and
secret places, in which were kept all sorts of ornaments, some
precious, some merely curious, all more or less antique. To examine and
arrange these things gave Amy great satisfaction, especially the jewel
cases, in which on velvet cushions reposed the ornaments which had
adorned a belle forty years ago. There was the garnet set which Aunt
March wore when she came out, the pearls her father gave her on her
wedding day, her lover’s diamonds, the jet mourning rings and pins, the
queer lockets, with portraits of dead friends and weeping willows made
of hair inside, the baby bracelets her one little daughter had worn,
Uncle March’s big watch, with the red seal so many childish hands had
played with, and in a box all by itself lay Aunt March’s wedding ring,
too small now for her fat finger, but put carefully away like the most
precious jewel of them all.

“Which would Mademoiselle choose if she had her will?” asked Esther,
who always sat near to watch over and lock up the valuables.

“I like the diamonds best, but there is no necklace among them, and I’m
fond of necklaces, they are so becoming. I should choose this if I
might,” replied Amy, looking with great admiration at a string of gold
and ebony beads from which hung a heavy cross of the same.

“I, too, covet that, but not as a necklace. Ah, no! To me it is a
rosary, and as such I should use it like a good catholic,” said Esther,
eyeing the handsome thing wistfully.

“Is it meant to use as you use the string of good-smelling wooden beads
hanging over your glass?” asked Amy.

“Truly, yes, to pray with. It would be pleasing to the saints if one
used so fine a rosary as this, instead of wearing it as a vain bijou.”

“You seem to take a great deal of comfort in your prayers, Esther, and
always come down looking quiet and satisfied. I wish I could.”

“If Mademoiselle was a Catholic, she would find true comfort, but as
that is not to be, it would be well if you went apart each day to
meditate and pray, as did the good mistress whom I served before
Madame. She had a little chapel, and in it found solacement for much
trouble.”

“Would it be right for me to do so too?” asked Amy, who in her
loneliness felt the need of help of some sort, and found that she was
apt to forget her little book, now that Beth was not there to remind
her of it.

“It would be excellent and charming, and I shall gladly arrange the
little dressing room for you if you like it. Say nothing to Madame,
but when she sleeps go you and sit alone a while to think good
thoughts, and pray the dear God preserve your sister.”

Esther was truly pious, and quite sincere in her advice, for she had an
affectionate heart, and felt much for the sisters in their anxiety.
Amy liked the idea, and gave her leave to arrange the light closet next
her room, hoping it would do her good.

“I wish I knew where all these pretty things would go when Aunt March
dies,” she said, as she slowly replaced the shining rosary and shut the
jewel cases one by one.

“To you and your sisters. I know it, Madame confides in me. I
witnessed her will, and it is to be so,” whispered Esther smiling.

“How nice! But I wish she’d let us have them now. Procrastination is
not agreeable,” observed Amy, taking a last look at the diamonds.

“It is too soon yet for the young ladies to wear these things. The
first one who is affianced will have the pearls, Madame has said it,
and I have a fancy that the little turquoise ring will be given to you
when you go, for Madame approves your good behavior and charming
manners.”

“Do you think so? Oh, I’ll be a lamb, if I can only have that lovely
ring! It’s ever so much prettier than Kitty Bryant’s. I do like Aunt
March after all.” And Amy tried on the blue ring with a delighted face
and a firm resolve to earn it.

From that day she was a model of obedience, and the old lady
complacently admired the success of her training. Esther fitted up the
closet with a little table, placed a footstool before it, and over it a
picture taken from one of the shut-up rooms. She thought it was of no
great value, but, being appropriate, she borrowed it, well knowing that
Madame would never know it, nor care if she did. It was, however, a
very valuable copy of one of the famous pictures of the world, and
Amy’s beauty-loving eyes were never tired of looking up at the sweet
face of the Divine Mother, while her tender thoughts of her own were
busy at her heart. On the table she laid her little testament and
hymnbook, kept a vase always full of the best flowers Laurie brought
her, and came every day to ‘sit alone’ thinking good thoughts, and
praying the dear God to preserve her sister. Esther had given her a
rosary of black beads with a silver cross, but Amy hung it up and did
not use it, feeling doubtful as to its fitness for Protestant prayers.

The little girl was very sincere in all this, for being left alone
outside the safe home nest, she felt the need of some kind hand to hold
by so sorely that she instinctively turned to the strong and tender
Friend, whose fatherly love most closely surrounds His little children.
She missed her mother’s help to understand and rule herself, but having
been taught where to look, she did her best to find the way and walk in
it confidingly. But, Amy was a young pilgrim, and just now her burden
seemed very heavy. She tried to forget herself, to keep cheerful, and
be satisfied with doing right, though no one saw or praised her for it.
In her first effort at being very, very good, she decided to make her
will, as Aunt March had done, so that if she did fall ill and die, her
possessions might be justly and generously divided. It cost her a pang
even to think of giving up the little treasures which in her eyes were
as precious as the old lady’s jewels.

During one of her play hours she wrote out the important document as
well as she could, with some help from Esther as to certain legal
terms, and when the good-natured Frenchwoman had signed her name, Amy
felt relieved and laid it by to show Laurie, whom she wanted as a
second witness. As it was a rainy day, she went upstairs to amuse
herself in one of the large chambers, and took Polly with her for
company. In this room there was a wardrobe full of old-fashioned
costumes with which Esther allowed her to play, and it was her favorite
amusement to array herself in the faded brocades, and parade up and
down before the long mirror, making stately curtsies, and sweeping her
train about with a rustle which delighted her ears. So busy was she on
this day that she did not hear Laurie’s ring nor see his face peeping
in at her as she gravely promenaded to and fro, flirting her fan and
tossing her head, on which she wore a great pink turban, contrasting
oddly with her blue brocade dress and yellow quilted petticoat. She
was obliged to walk carefully, for she had on 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!”

Having with difficulty restrained an explosion of merriment, lest it
should offend her majesty, Laurie tapped and was graciously received.

“Sit down and rest while I put these things away, then I want to
consult you about a very serious matter,” said Amy, when she had shown
her splendor and driven Polly into a corner. “That bird is the trial
of my life,” she continued, removing the pink mountain from her head,
while Laurie seated himself astride a chair.

“Yesterday, when Aunt was asleep and I was trying to be as still as a
mouse, Polly began to squall and flap about in his cage, so I went to
let him out, and found a big spider there. I poked it out, and it ran
under the bookcase. Polly marched straight after it, stooped down and
peeped under the bookcase, saying, in his funny way, with a cock of his
eye, ‘Come out and take a walk, my dear.’ I couldn’t help laughing,
which made Poll swear, and Aunt woke up and scolded us both.”

“Did the spider accept the old fellow’s invitation?” asked Laurie,
yawning.

“Yes, out it came, and away ran Polly, frightened to death, and
scrambled up on Aunt’s chair, calling out, ‘Catch her! Catch her! Catch
her!’ as I chased the spider.”

“That’s a lie! Oh, lor!” cried the parrot, pecking at Laurie’s toes.

“I’d wring your neck if you were mine, you old torment,” cried Laurie,
shaking his fist at the bird, who put his head on one side and gravely
croaked, “Allyluyer! bless your buttons, dear!”

“Now I’m ready,” said Amy, shutting the wardrobe and taking a piece of
paper out of her pocket. “I want you to read that, please, and tell me
if it is legal and right. I felt I ought to do it, for life is
uncertain and I don’t want any ill feeling over my tomb.”

Laurie bit his lips, and turning a little from the pensive speaker,
read the following document, with praiseworthy gravity, considering the
spelling:

MY LAST WILL AND TESTIMENT

I, Amy Curtis March, being in my sane mind, go give and bequeethe all
my earthly property–viz. to wit:–namely

To my father, my best pictures, sketches, maps, and works of art,
including frames. Also my $100, to do what he likes with.

To my mother, all my clothes, except the blue apron with pockets–also
my likeness, and my medal, with much love.

To my dear sister Margaret, I give my turkquoise ring (if I get it),
also my green box with the doves on it, also my piece of real lace for
her neck, and my sketch of her as a memorial of her ‘little girl’.

To Jo I leave my breastpin, the one mended with sealing wax, also my
bronze inkstand–she lost the cover–and my most precious plaster
rabbit, because I am sorry I burned up her story.

To Beth (if she lives after me) I give my dolls and the little bureau,
my fan, my linen collars and my new slippers if she can wear them being
thin when she gets well. And I herewith also leave her my regret that
I ever made fun of old Joanna.

To my friend and neighbor Theodore Laurence I bequeethe my paper mashay
portfolio, my clay model of a horse though he did say it hadn’t any
neck. Also in return for his great kindness in the hour of affliction
any one of my artistic works he likes, Noter Dame is the best.

To our venerable benefactor Mr. Laurence I leave my purple box with a
looking glass in the cover which will be nice for his pens and remind
him of the departed girl who thanks him for his favors to her family,
especially Beth.

I wish my favorite playmate Kitty Bryant to have the blue silk apron
and my gold-bead ring with a kiss.

To Hannah I give the bandbox she wanted and all the patchwork I leave
hoping she ‘will remember me, when it you see’.

And now having disposed of my most valuable property I hope all will be
satisfied and not blame the dead. I forgive everyone, and trust we may
all meet when the trump shall sound. Amen.

To this will and testiment I set my hand and seal on this 20th day of
Nov. Anni Domino 1861.

Amy Curtis March

Witnesses:

Estelle Valnor, Theodore Laurence.

The last name was written in pencil, and Amy explained that he was to
rewrite it in ink and seal it up for her properly.

“What put it into your head? Did anyone tell you about Beth’s giving
away her things?” asked Laurie soberly, as Amy laid a bit of red tape,
with sealing wax, a taper, and a standish before him.

She explained and then asked anxiously, “What about Beth?”

“I’m sorry I spoke, but as I did, I’ll tell you. She felt so ill one
day that she told Jo she wanted to give her piano to Meg, her cats to
you, and the poor old doll to Jo, who would love it for her sake. She
was sorry she had so little to give, and left locks of hair to the rest
of us, and her best love to Grandpa. She never thought of a will.”

Laurie was signing and sealing as he spoke, and did not look up till a
great tear dropped on the paper. Amy’s face was full of trouble, but
she only said, “Don’t people put sort of postscripts to their wills,
sometimes?”

“Yes, ‘codicils’, they call them.”

“Put one in mine then, that I wish all my curls cut off, and given
round to my friends. I forgot it, but I want it done though it will
spoil my looks.”

Laurie added it, smiling at Amy’s last and greatest sacrifice. Then he
amused her for an hour, and was much interested in all her trials. But
when he came to go, Amy held him back to whisper with trembling lips,
“Is there really any danger about Beth?”

“I’m afraid there is, but we must hope for the best, so don’t cry,
dear.” And Laurie put his arm about her with a brotherly gesture which
was very comforting.

When he had gone, she went to her little chapel, and sitting in the
twilight, prayed for Beth, with streaming tears and an aching heart,
feeling that a million turquoise rings would not console her for the
loss of her gentle little sister.

CHAPTER TWENTY

CONFIDENTIAL

I don’t think I have any words in which to tell the meeting of the
mother and daughters. Such hours are beautiful to live, but very hard
to describe, so I will leave it to the imagination of my readers,
merely saying that the house was full of genuine happiness, and that
Meg’s tender hope was realized, for when Beth woke from that long,
healing sleep, the first objects on which her eyes fell were the little
rose and Mother’s face. Too weak to wonder at anything, she only
smiled and nestled close in the loving arms about her, feeling that the
hungry longing was satisfied at last. Then she slept again, and the
girls waited upon their mother, for she would not unclasp the thin hand
which clung to hers even in sleep.

Hannah had ‘dished up’ an astonishing breakfast for the traveler,
finding it impossible to vent her excitement in any other way, and Meg
and Jo fed their mother like dutiful young storks, while they listened
to her whispered account of Father’s state, Mr. Brooke’s promise to
stay and nurse him, the delays which the storm occasioned on the
homeward journey, and the unspeakable comfort Laurie’s hopeful face had
given her when she arrived, worn out with fatigue, anxiety, and cold.

What a strange yet pleasant day that was. So brilliant and gay
without, for all the world seemed abroad to welcome the first snow. So
quiet and reposeful within, for everyone slept, spent with watching,
and a Sabbath stillness reigned through the house, while nodding Hannah
mounted guard at the door. With a blissful sense of burdens lifted
off, Meg and Jo closed their weary eyes, and lay at rest, like
storm-beaten boats safe at anchor in a quiet harbor. Mrs. March would
not leave Beth’s side, but rested in the big chair, waking often to
look at, touch, and brood over her child, like a miser over some
recovered treasure.

Laurie meanwhile posted off to comfort Amy, and told his story so well
that Aunt March actually ‘sniffed’ herself, and never once said “I told
you so”. Amy came out so strong on this occasion that I think the good
thoughts in the little chapel really began to bear fruit. She dried
her tears quickly, restrained her impatience to see her mother, and
never even thought of the turquoise ring, when the old lady heartily
agreed in Laurie’s opinion, that she behaved ‘like a capital little
woman’. Even Polly seemed impressed, for he called her a good girl,
blessed her buttons, and begged her to “come and take a walk, dear”, in
his most affable tone. She would very gladly have gone out to enjoy
the bright wintry weather, but discovering that Laurie was dropping
with sleep in spite of manful efforts to conceal the fact, she
persuaded him to rest on the sofa, while she wrote a note to her
mother. She was a long time about it, and when she returned, he was
stretched out with both arms under his head, sound asleep, while Aunt
March had pulled down the curtains and sat doing nothing in an unusual
fit of benignity.

After a while, they began to think he was not going to wake up till
night, and I’m not sure that he would, had he not been effectually
roused by Amy’s cry of joy at sight of her mother. There probably were
a good many happy little girls in and about the city that day, but it
is my private opinion that Amy was the happiest of all, when she sat in
her mother’s lap and told her trials, receiving consolation and
compensation in the shape of approving smiles and fond caresses. They
were alone together in the chapel, to which her mother did not object
when its purpose was explained to her.

“On the contrary, I like it very much, dear,” looking from the dusty
rosary to the well-worn little book, and the lovely picture with its
garland of evergreen. “It is an excellent plan to have some place
where we can go to be quiet, when things vex or grieve us. There are a
good many hard times in this life of ours, but we can always bear them
if we ask help in the right way. I think my little girl is learning
this.”

“Yes, Mother, and when I go home I mean to have a corner in the big
closet to put my books and the copy of that picture which I’ve tried to
make. The woman’s face is not good, it’s too beautiful for me to draw,
but the baby is done better, and I love it very much. I like to think
He was a little child once, for then I don’t seem so far away, and that
helps me.”

As Amy pointed to the smiling Christ child on his Mother’s knee, Mrs.
March saw something on the lifted hand that made her smile. She said
nothing, but Amy understood the look, and after a minute’s pause, she
added gravely, “I wanted to speak to you about this, but I forgot it.
Aunt gave me the ring today. She called me to her and kissed me, and
put it on my finger, and said I was a credit to her, and she’d like to
keep me always. She gave that funny guard to keep the turquoise on, as
it’s too big. I’d like to wear them Mother, can I?”

“They are very pretty, but I think you’re rather too young for such
ornaments, Amy,” said Mrs. March, looking at the plump little hand,
with the band of sky-blue stones on the forefinger, and the quaint
guard formed of two tiny golden hands clasped together.

“I’ll try not to be vain,” said Amy. “I don’t think I like it only
because it’s so pretty, but I want to wear it as the girl in the story
wore her bracelet, to remind me of something.”

“Do you mean Aunt March?” asked her mother, laughing.

“No, to remind me not to be selfish.” Amy looked so earnest and
sincere about it that her mother stopped laughing, and listened
respectfully to the little plan.

“I’ve thought a great deal lately about my ‘bundle of naughties’, and
being selfish is the largest one in it, so I’m going to try hard to
cure it, if I can. Beth isn’t selfish, and that’s the reason everyone
loves her and feels so bad at the thoughts of losing her. People
wouldn’t feel so bad about me if I was sick, and I don’t deserve to
have them, but I’d like to be loved and missed by a great many friends,
so I’m going to try and be like Beth all I can. I’m apt to forget my
resolutions, but if I had something always about me to remind me, I
guess I should do better. May we try this way?”

“Yes, but I have more faith in the corner of the big closet. Wear your
ring, dear, and do your best. I think you will prosper, for the
sincere wish to be good is half the battle. Now I must go back to
Beth. Keep up your heart, little daughter, and we will soon have you
home again.”

That evening while Meg was writing to her father to report the
traveler’s safe arrival, Jo slipped upstairs into Beth’s room, and
finding her mother in her usual place, stood a minute twisting her
fingers in her hair, with a worried gesture and an undecided look.

“What is it, deary?” asked Mrs. March, holding out her hand, with a
face which invited confidence.

“I want to tell you something, Mother.”

“About Meg?”

“How quickly you guessed! Yes, it’s about her, and though it’s a
little thing, it fidgets me.”

“Beth is asleep. Speak low, and tell me all about it. That Moffat
hasn’t been here, I hope?” asked Mrs. March rather sharply.

“No. I should have shut the door in his face if he had,” said Jo,
settling herself on the floor at her mother’s feet. “Last summer Meg
left a pair of gloves over at the Laurences’ and only one was returned.
We forgot about it, till Teddy told me that Mr. Brooke owned that he
liked Meg but didn’t dare say so, she was so young and he so poor.
Now, isn’t it a dreadful state of things?”

“Do you think Meg cares for him?” asked Mrs. March, with an anxious
look.

“Mercy me! I don’t know anything about love and such nonsense!” cried
Jo, with a funny mixture of interest and contempt. “In novels, the
girls show it by starting and blushing, fainting away, growing thin,
and acting like fools. Now Meg does not do anything of the sort. She
eats and drinks and sleeps like a sensible creature, she looks straight
in my face when I talk about that man, and only blushes a little bit
when Teddy jokes about lovers. I forbid him to do it, but he doesn’t
mind me as he ought.”

“Then you fancy that Meg is not interested in John?”

“Who?” cried Jo, staring.

“Mr. Brooke. I call him ‘John’ now. We fell into the way of doing so
at the hospital, and he likes it.”

“Oh, dear! I know you’ll take his part. He’s been good to Father, and
you won’t send him away, but let Meg marry him, if she wants to. Mean
thing! To go petting Papa and helping you, just to wheedle you into
liking him.” And Jo pulled her hair again with a wrathful tweak.

“My dear, don’t get angry about it, and I will tell you how it
happened. John went with me at Mr. Laurence’s request, and was so
devoted to poor Father that we couldn’t help getting fond of him. He
was perfectly open and honorable about Meg, for he told us he loved
her, but would earn a comfortable home before he asked her to marry
him. He only wanted our leave to love her and work for her, and the
right to make her love him if he could. He is a truly excellent young
man, and we could not refuse to listen to him, but I will not consent
to Meg’s engaging herself so young.”

“Of course not. It would be idiotic! I knew there was mischief
brewing. I felt it, and now it’s worse than I imagined. I just wish I
could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in the family.”

This odd arrangement made Mrs. March smile, but she said gravely, “Jo,
I confide in you and don’t wish you to say anything to Meg yet. When
John comes back, and I see them together, I can judge better of her
feelings toward him.”

“She’ll see those handsome eyes that she talks about, and then it will
be all up with her. She’s got such a soft heart, it will melt like
butter in the sun if anyone looks sentimentlly at her. She read the
short reports he sent more than she did your letters, and pinched me
when I spoke of it, and likes brown eyes, and doesn’t think John an
ugly name, and she’ll go and fall in love, and there’s an end of peace
and fun, and cozy times together. I see it all! They’ll go lovering
around the house, and we shall have to dodge. Meg will be absorbed and
no good to me any more. Brooke will scratch up a fortune somehow, carry
her off, and make a hole in the family, and I shall break my heart, and
everything will be abominably uncomfortable. Oh, dear me! Why weren’t
we all boys, then there wouldn’t be any bother.”

Jo leaned her chin on her knees in a disconsolate attitude and shook
her fist at the reprehensible John. Mrs. March sighed, and Jo looked
up with an air of relief.

“You don’t like it, Mother? I’m glad of it. Let’s send him about his
business, and not tell Meg a word of it, but all be happy together as
we always have been.”

“I did wrong to sigh, Jo. It is natural and right you should all go to
homes of your own in time, but I do want to keep my girls as long as I
can, and I am sorry that this happened so soon, for Meg is only
seventeen and it will be some years before John can make a home for
her. Your father and I have agreed that she shall not bind herself in
any way, nor be married, before twenty. If she and John love one
another, they can wait, and test the love by doing so. She is
conscientious, and I have no fear of her treating him unkindly. My
pretty, tender hearted girl! I hope things will go happily with her.”

“Hadn’t you rather have her marry a rich man?” asked Jo, as her
mother’s voice faltered a little over the last words.

“Money is a good and useful thing, Jo, and I hope my girls will never
feel the need of it too bitterly, nor be tempted by too much. I should
like to know that John was firmly established in some good business,
which gave him an income large enough to keep free from debt and make
Meg comfortable. I’m not ambitious for a splendid fortune, a
fashionable position, or a great name for my girls. If rank and money
come with love and virtue, also, I should accept them gratefully, and
enjoy your good fortune, but I know, by experience, how much genuine
happiness can be had in a plain little house, where the daily bread is
earned, and some privations give sweetness to the few pleasures. I am
content to see Meg begin humbly, for if I am not mistaken, she will be
rich in the possession of a good man’s heart, and that is better than a
fortune.”

“I understand, Mother, and quite agree, but I’m disappointed about Meg,
for I’d planned to have her marry Teddy by-and-by and sit in the lap of
luxury all her days. Wouldn’t it be nice?” asked Jo, looking up with a
brighter face.

“He is younger than she, you know,” began Mrs. March, but Jo broke in…

“Only a little, he’s old for his age, and tall, and can be quite
grown-up in his manners if he likes. Then he’s rich and generous and
good, and loves us all, and I say it’s a pity my plan is spoiled.”

“I’m afraid Laurie is hardly grown-up enough for Meg, and altogether
too much of a weathercock just now for anyone to depend on. Don’t make
plans, Jo, but let time and their own hearts mate your friends. We
can’t meddle safely in such matters, and had better not get ‘romantic
rubbish’ as you call it, into our heads, lest it spoil our friendship.”

“Well, I won’t, but I hate to see things going all crisscross and
getting snarled up, when a pull here and a snip there would straighten
it out. I wish wearing flatirons on our heads would keep us from
growing up. But buds will be roses, and kittens cats, more’s the pity!”

“What’s that about flatirons and cats?” asked Meg, as she crept into
the room with the finished letter in her hand.

“Only one of my stupid speeches. I’m going to bed. Come, Peggy,” said
Jo, unfolding herself like an animated puzzle.

“Quite right, and beautifully written. Please add that I send my love
to John,” said Mrs. March, as she glanced over the letter and gave it
back.

“Do you call him ‘John’?” asked Meg, smiling, with her innocent eyes
looking down into her mother’s.

“Yes, he has been like a son to us, and we are very fond of him,”
replied Mrs. March, returning the look with a keen one.

“I’m glad of that, he is so lonely. Good night, Mother, dear. It is
so inexpressibly comfortable to have you here,” was Meg’s answer.

The kiss her mother gave her was a very tender one, and as she went
away, Mrs. March said, with a mixture of satisfaction and regret, “She
does not love John yet, but will soon learn to.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

LAURIE MAKES MISCHIEF, AND JO MAKES PEACE

Jo’s face was a study next day, for the secret rather weighed upon her,
and she found it hard not to look mysterious and important. Meg
observed it, but did not trouble herself to make inquiries, for she had
learned that the best way to manage Jo was by the law of contraries, so
she felt sure of being told everything if she did not ask. She was
rather surprised, therefore, when the silence remained unbroken, and Jo
assumed a patronizing air, which decidedly aggravated Meg, who in turn
assumed an air of dignified reserve and devoted herself to her mother.
This left Jo to her own devices, for Mrs. March had taken her place as
nurse, and bade her rest, exercise, and amuse herself after her long
confinement. Amy being gone, Laurie was her only refuge, and much as
she enjoyed his society, she rather dreaded him just then, for he was
an incorrigible tease, and she feared he would coax the secret from her.

She was quite right, for the mischief-loving lad no sooner suspected a
mystery than he set himself to find it out, and led Jo a trying life of
it. He wheedled, bribed, ridiculed, threatened, and scolded; affected
indifference, that he might surprise the truth from her; declared he
knew, then that he didn’t care; and at last, by dint of perseverance,
he satisfied himself that it concerned Meg and Mr. Brooke. Feeling
indignant that he was not taken into his tutor’s confidence, he set his
wits to work to devise some proper retaliation for the slight.

Meg meanwhile had apparently forgotten the matter and was absorbed in
preparations for her father’s return, but all of a sudden a change
seemed to come over her, and, for a day or two, she was quite unlike
herself. She started when spoken to, blushed when looked at, was very
quiet, and sat over her sewing, with a timid, troubled look on her
face. To her mother’s inquiries she answered that she was quite well,
and Jo’s she silenced by begging to be let alone.

“She feels it in the air–love, I mean–and she’s going very fast.
She’s got most of the symptoms–is twittery and cross, doesn’t eat,
lies awake, and mopes in corners. I caught her singing that song he
gave her, and once she said ‘John’, as you do, and then turned as red
as a poppy. Whatever shall we do?” said Jo, looking ready for any
measures, however violent.

“Nothing but wait. Let her alone, be kind and patient, and Father’s
coming will settle everything,” replied her mother.

“Here’s a note to you, Meg, all sealed up. How odd! Teddy never seals
mine,” said Jo next day, as she distributed the contents of the little
post office.

Mrs. March and Jo were deep in their own affairs, when a sound from Meg
made them look up to see her staring at her note with a frightened face.

“My child, what is it?” cried her mother, running to her, while Jo
tried to take the paper which had done the mischief.

“It’s all a mistake, he didn’t send it. Oh, Jo, how could you do it?”
and Meg hid her face in her hands, crying as if her heart were quite
broken.

“Me! I’ve done nothing! What’s she talking about?” cried Jo,
bewildered.

Meg’s mild eyes kindled with anger as she pulled a crumpled note from
her pocket and threw it at Jo, saying reproachfully, “You wrote it, and
that bad boy helped you. How could you be so rude, so mean, and cruel
to us both?”

Jo hardly heard her, for she and her mother were reading the note,
which was written in a peculiar hand.

"My Dearest Margaret,

"I can no longer restrain my passion, and must know my fate before I
return. I dare not tell your parents yet, but I think they would
consent if they knew that we adored one another. Mr. Laurence will
help me to some good place, and then, my sweet girl, you will make me
happy. I implore you to say nothing to your family yet, but to send
one word of hope through Laurie to,

“Your devoted John.”

“Oh, the little villain! That’s the way he meant to pay me for keeping
my word to Mother. I’ll give him a hearty scolding and bring him over
to beg pardon,” cried Jo, burning to execute immediate justice. But
her mother held her back, saying, with a look she seldom wore…

“Stop, Jo, you must clear yourself first. You have played so many
pranks that I am afraid you have had a hand in this.”

“On my word, Mother, I haven’t! I never saw that note before, and
don’t know anything about it, as true as I live!” said Jo, so earnestly
that they believed her. “If I had taken part in it I’d have done it
better than this, and have written a sensible note. I should think
you’d have known Mr. Brooke wouldn’t write such stuff as that,” she
added, scornfully tossing down the paper.

“It’s like his writing,” faltered Meg, comparing it with the note in
her hand.

“Oh, Meg, you didn’t answer it?” cried Mrs. March quickly.

“Yes, I did!” and Meg hid her face again, overcome with shame.

“Here’s a scrape! Do let me bring that wicked boy over to explain and
be lectured. I can’t rest till I get hold of him.” And Jo made for the
door again.

“Hush! Let me handle this, for it is worse than I thought. Margaret,
tell me the whole story,” commanded Mrs. March, sitting down by Meg,
yet keeping hold of Jo, lest she should fly off.

“I received the first letter from Laurie, who didn’t look as if he knew
anything about it,” began Meg, without looking up. “I was worried at
first and meant to tell you, then I remembered how you liked Mr.
Brooke, so I thought you wouldn’t mind if I kept my little secret for a
few days. I’m so silly that I liked to think no one knew, and while I
was deciding what to say, I felt like the girls in books, who have such
things to do. Forgive me, Mother, I’m paid for my silliness now. I
never can look him in the face again.”

“What did you say to him?” asked Mrs. March.

“I only said I was too young to do anything about it yet, that I didn’t
wish to have secrets from you, and he must speak to father. I was very
grateful for his kindness, and would be his friend, but nothing more,
for a long while.”

Mrs. March smiled, as if well pleased, and Jo clapped her hands,
exclaiming, with a laugh, “You are almost equal to Caroline Percy, who
was a pattern of prudence! Tell on, Meg. What did he say to that?”

“He writes in a different way entirely, telling me that he never sent
any love letter at all, and is very sorry that my roguish sister, Jo,
should take liberties with our names. It’s very kind and respectful,
but think how dreadful for me!”

Meg leaned against her mother, looking the image of despair, and Jo
tramped about the room, calling Laurie names. All of a sudden she
stopped, caught up the two notes, and after looking at them closely,
said decidedly, “I don’t believe Brooke ever saw either of these
letters. Teddy wrote both, and keeps yours to crow over me with
because I wouldn’t tell him my secret.”

“Don’t have any secrets, Jo. Tell it to Mother and keep out of
trouble, as I should have done,” said Meg warningly.

“Bless you, child! Mother told me.”

“That will do, Jo. I’ll comfort Meg while you go and get Laurie. I
shall sift the matter to the bottom, and put a stop to such pranks at
once.”

Away ran Jo, and Mrs. March gently told Meg Mr. Brooke’s real feelings.
“Now, dear, what are your own? Do you love him enough to wait till he
can make a home for you, or will you keep yourself quite free for the
present?”

“I’ve been so scared and worried, I don’t want to have anything to do
with lovers for a long while, perhaps never,” answered Meg petulantly.
“If John doesn’t know anything about this nonsense, don’t tell him, and
make Jo and Laurie hold their tongues. I won’t be deceived and plagued
and made a fool of. It’s a shame!”

Seeing Meg’s usually gentle temper was roused and her pride hurt by
this mischievous joke, Mrs. March soothed her by promises of entire
silence and great discretion for the future. The instant Laurie’s step
was heard in the hall, Meg fled into the study, and Mrs. March received
the culprit alone. Jo had not told him why he was wanted, fearing he
wouldn’t come, but he knew the minute he saw Mrs. March’s face, and
stood twirling his hat with a guilty air which convicted him at once.
Jo was dismissed, but chose to march up and down the hall like a
sentinel, having some fear that the prisoner might bolt. The sound of
voices in the parlor rose and fell for half an hour, but what happened
during that interview the girls never knew.

When they were called in, Laurie was standing by their mother with such
a penitent face that Jo forgave him on the spot, but did not think it
wise to betray the fact. Meg received his humble apology, and was much
comforted by the assurance that Brooke knew nothing of the joke.

“I’ll never tell him to my dying day, wild horses shan’t drag it out of
me, so you’ll forgive me, Meg, and I’ll do anything to show how
out-and-out sorry I am,” he added, looking very much ashamed of himself.

“I’ll try, but it was a very ungentlemanly thing to do, I didn’t think
you could be so sly and malicious, Laurie,” replied Meg, trying to hide
her maidenly confusion under a gravely reproachful air.

“It was altogether abominable, and I don’t deserve to be spoken to for
a month, but you will, though, won’t you?” And Laurie folded his hands
together with such and imploring gesture, as he spoke in his
irresistibly persuasive tone, that it was impossible to frown upon him
in spite of his scandalous behavior.

Meg pardoned him, and Mrs. March’s grave face relaxed, in spite of her
efforts to keep sober, when she heard him declare that he would atone
for his sins by all sorts of penances, and abase himself like a worm
before the injured damsel.

Jo stood aloof, meanwhile, trying to harden her heart against him, and
succeeding only in primming up her face into an expression of entire
disapprobation. Laurie looked at her once or twice, but as she showed
no sign of relenting, he felt injured, and turned his back on her till
the others were done with him, when he made her a low bow and walked
off without a word.

As soon as he had gone, she wished she had been more forgiving, and
when Meg and her mother went upstairs, she felt lonely and longed for
Teddy. After resisting for some time, she yielded to the impulse, and
armed with a book to return, went over to the big house.

“Is Mr. Laurence in?” asked Jo, of a housemaid, who was coming
downstairs.

“Yes, Miss, but I don’t believe he’s seeable just yet.”

“Why not? Is he ill?”

“La, no Miss, but he’s had a scene with Mr. Laurie, who is in one of
his tantrums about something, which vexes the old gentleman, so I
dursn’t go nigh him.”

“Where is Laurie?”

“Shut up in his room, and he won’t answer, though I’ve been a-tapping.
I don’t know what’s to become of the dinner, for it’s ready, and
there’s no one to eat it.”

“I’ll go and see what the matter is. I’m not afraid of either of them.”

Up went Jo, and knocked smartly on the door of Laurie’s little study.

“Stop that, or I’ll open the door and make you!” called out the young
gentleman in a threatening tone.

Jo immediately knocked again. The door flew open, and in she bounced
before Laurie could recover from his surprise. Seeing that he really
was out of temper, Jo, who knew how to manage him, assumed a contrite
expression, and going artistically down upon her knees, said meekly,
“Please forgive me for being so cross. I came to make it up, and can’t
go away till I have.”

“It’s all right. Get up, and don’t be a goose, Jo,” was the cavalier
reply to her petition.

“Thank you, I will. Could I ask what’s the matter? You don’t look
exactly easy in your mind.”

“I’ve been shaken, and I won’t bear it!” growled Laurie indignantly.

“Who did it?” demanded Jo.

“Grandfather. If it had been anyone else I’d have…” And the injured
youth finished his sentence by an energetic gesture of the right arm.

“That’s nothing. I often shake you, and you don’t mind,” said Jo
soothingly.

“Pooh! You’re a girl, and it’s fun, but I’ll allow no man to shake me!”

“I don’t think anyone would care to try it, if you looked as much like
a thundercloud as you do now. Why were you treated so?”

“Just because I wouldn’t say what your mother wanted me for. I’d
promised not to tell, and of course I wasn’t going to break my word.”

“Couldn’t you satisfy your grandpa in any other way?”

“No, he would have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth. I’d have told my part of the scrape, if I could without
bringing Meg in. As I couldn’t, I held my tongue, and bore the
scolding till the old gentleman collared me. Then I bolted, for fear I
should forget myself.”

“It wasn’t nice, but he’s sorry, I know, so go down and make up. I’ll
help you.”

“Hanged if I do! I’m not going to be lectured and pummelled by
everyone, just for a bit of a frolic. I was sorry about Meg, and
begged pardon like a man, but I won’t do it again, when I wasn’t in the
wrong.”

“He didn’t know that.”

“He ought to trust me, and not act as if I was a baby. It’s no use,
Jo, he’s got to learn that I’m able to take care of myself, and don’t
need anyone’s apron string to hold on by.”

“What pepper pots you are!” sighed Jo. “How do you mean to settle this
affair?”

“Well, he ought to beg pardon, and believe me when I say I can’t tell
him what the fuss’s about.”

“Bless you! He won’t do that.”

“I won’t go down till he does.”

“Now, Teddy, be sensible. Let it pass, and I’ll explain what I can.
You can’t stay here, so what’s the use of being melodramatic?”

“I don’t intend to stay here long, anyway. I’ll slip off and take a
journey somewhere, and when Grandpa misses me he’ll come round fast
enough.”

“I dare say, but you ought not to go and worry him.”

“Don’t preach. I’ll go to Washington and see Brooke. It’s gay there,
and I’ll enjoy myself after the troubles.”

“What fun you’d have! I wish I could run off too,” said Jo, forgetting
her part of mentor in lively visions of martial life at the capital.

“Come on, then! Why not? You go and surprise your father, and I’ll
stir up old Brooke. It would be a glorious joke. Let’s do it, Jo.
We’ll leave a letter saying we are all right, and trot off at once.
I’ve got money enough. It will do you good, and no harm, as you go to
your father.”

For a moment Jo looked as if she would agree, for wild as the plan was,
it just suited her. She was tired of care and confinement, longed for
change, and thoughts of her father blended temptingly with the novel
charms of camps and hospitals, liberty and fun. Her eyes kindled as
they turned wistfully toward the window, but they fell on the old house
opposite, and she shook her head with sorrowful decision.

“If I was a boy, we’d run away together, and have a capital time, but
as I’m a miserable girl, I must be proper and stop at home. Don’t tempt
me, Teddy, it’s a crazy plan.”

“That’s the fun of it,” began Laurie, who had got a willful fit on him
and was possessed to break out of bounds in some way.

“Hold your tongue!” cried Jo, covering her ears. “‘Prunes and prisms’
are my doom, and I may as well make up my mind to it. I came here to
moralize, not to hear things that make me skip to think of.”

“I know Meg would wet-blanket such a proposal, but I thought you had
more spirit,” began Laurie insinuatingly.

“Bad boy, be quiet! Sit down and think of your own sins, don’t go
making me add to mine. If I get your grandpa to apologize for the
shaking, will you give up running away?” asked Jo seriously.

“Yes, but you won’t do it,” answered Laurie, who wished to make up, but
felt that his outraged dignity must be appeased first.

“If I can manage the young one, I can the old one,” muttered Jo, as she
walked away, leaving Laurie bent over a railroad map with his head
propped up on both hands.

“Come in!” and Mr. Laurence’s gruff voice sounded gruffer than ever, as
Jo tapped at his door.

“It’s only me, Sir, come to return a book,” she said blandly, as she
entered.

“Want any more?” asked the old gentleman, looking grim and vexed, but
trying not to show it.

“Yes, please. I like old Sam so well, I think I’ll try the second
volume,” returned Jo, hoping to propitiate him by accepting a second
dose of Boswell’s Johnson, as he had recommended that lively work.

The shaggy eyebrows unbent a little as he rolled the steps toward the
shelf where the Johnsonian literature was placed. Jo skipped up, and
sitting on the top step, affected to be searching for her book, but was
really wondering how best to introduce the dangerous object of her
visit. Mr. Laurence seemed to suspect that something was brewing in
her mind, for after taking several brisk turns about the room, he faced
round on her, speaking so abruptly that Rasselas tumbled face downward
on the floor.

“What has that boy been about? Don’t try to shield him. I know he has
been in mischief by the way he acted when he came home. I can’t get a
word from him, and when I threatened to shake the truth out of him he
bolted upstairs and locked himself into his room.”

“He did wrong, but we forgave him, and all promised not to say a word
to anyone,” began Jo reluctantly.

“That won’t do. He shall not shelter himself behind a promise from you
softhearted girls. If he’s done anything amiss, he shall confess, beg
pardon, and be punished. Out with it, Jo. I won’t be kept in the dark.”

Mr. Laurence looked so alarming and spoke so sharply that Jo would have
gladly run away, if she could, but she was perched aloft on the steps,
and he stood at the foot, a lion in the path, so she had to stay and
brave it out.

“Indeed, Sir, I cannot tell. Mother forbade it. Laurie has confessed,
asked pardon, and been punished quite enough. We don’t keep silence to
shield him, but someone else, and it will make more trouble if you
interfere. Please don’t. It was partly my fault, but it’s all right
now. So let’s forget it, and talk about the Rambler or something
pleasant.”

“Hang the Rambler! Come down and give me your word that this
harum-scarum boy of mine hasn’t done anything ungrateful or
impertinent. If he has, after all your kindness to him, I’ll thrash
him with my own hands.”

The threat sounded awful, but did not alarm Jo, for she knew the
irascible old gentleman would never lift a finger against his grandson,
whatever he might say to the contrary. She obediently descended, and
made as light of the prank as she could without betraying Meg or
forgetting the truth.

“Hum… ha… well, if the boy held his tongue because he promised, and
not from obstinacy, I’ll forgive him. He’s a stubborn fellow and hard
to manage,” said Mr. Laurence, rubbing up his hair till it looked as if
he had been out in a gale, and smoothing the frown from his brow with
an air of relief.

“So am I, but a kind word will govern me when all the king’s horses and
all the king’s men couldn’t,” said Jo, trying to say a kind word for
her friend, who seemed to get out of one scrape only to fall into
another.

“You think I’m not kind to him, hey?” was the sharp answer.

“Oh, dear no, Sir. You are rather too kind sometimes, and then just a
trifle hasty when he tries your patience. Don’t you think you are?”

Jo was determined to have it out now, and tried to look quite placid,
though she quaked a little after her bold speech. To her great relief
and surprise, the old gentleman only threw his spectacles onto the
table with a rattle and exclaimed frankly, “You’re right, girl, I am!
I love the boy, but he tries my patience past bearing, and I know how
it will end, if we go on so.”

“I’ll tell you, he’ll run away.” Jo was sorry for that speech the
minute it was made. She meant to warn him that Laurie would not bear
much restraint, and hoped he would be more forebearing with the lad.

Mr. Laurence’s ruddy face changed suddenly, and he sat down, with a
troubled glance at the picture of a handsome man, which hung over his
table. It was Laurie’s father, who had run away in his youth, and
married against the imperious old man’s will. Jo fancied he remembered
and regretted the past, and she wished she had held her tongue.

“He won’t do it unless he is very much worried, and only threatens it
sometimes, when he gets tired of studying. I often think I should like
to, especially since my hair was cut, so if you ever miss us, you may
advertise for two boys and look among the ships bound for India.”

She laughed as she spoke, and Mr. Laurence looked relieved, evidently
taking the whole as a joke.

“You hussy, how dare you talk in that way? Where’s your respect for
me, and your proper bringing up? Bless the boys and girls! What
torments they are, yet we can’t do without them,” he said, pinching her
cheeks good-humoredly. “Go and bring that boy down to his dinner, tell
him it’s all right, and advise him not to put on tragedy airs with his
grandfather. I won’t bear it.”

“He won’t come, Sir. He feels badly because you didn’t believe him
when he said he couldn’t tell. I think the shaking hurt his feelings
very much.”

Jo tried to look pathetic but must have failed, for Mr. Laurence began
to laugh, and she knew the day was won.

“I’m sorry for that, and ought to thank him for not shaking me, I
suppose. What the dickens does the fellow expect?” and the old
gentleman looked a trifle ashamed of his own testiness.

“If I were you, I’d write him an apology, Sir. He says he won’t come
down till he has one, and talks about Washington, and goes on in an
absurd way. A formal apology will make him see how foolish he is, and
bring him down quite amiable. Try it. He likes fun, and this way is
better than talking. I’ll carry it up, and teach him his duty.”

Mr. Laurence gave her a sharp look, and put on his spectacles, saying
slowly, “You’re a sly puss, but I don’t mind being managed by you and
Beth. Here, give me a bit of paper, and let us have done with this
nonsense.”

The note was written in the terms which one gentleman would use to
another after offering some deep insult. Jo dropped a kiss on the top
of Mr. Laurence’s bald head, and ran up to slip the apology under
Laurie’s door, advising him through the keyhole to be submissive,
decorous, and a few other agreeable impossibilities. Finding the door
locked again, she left the note to do its work, and was going quietly
away, when the young gentleman slid down the banisters, and waited for
her at the bottom, saying, with his most virtuous expression of
countenance, “What a good fellow you are, Jo! Did you get blown up?” he
added, laughing.

“No, he was pretty mild, on the whole.”

“Ah! I got it all round. Even you cast me off over there, and I felt
just ready to go to the deuce,” he began apologetically.

“Don’t talk that way, turn over a new leaf and begin again, Teddy, my
son.”

“I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I used to spoil
my copybooks, and I make so many beginnings there never will be an
end,” he said dolefully.

“Go and eat your dinner, you’ll feel better after it. Men always croak
when they are hungry,” and Jo whisked out at the front door after that.

“That’s a ‘label’ on my ‘sect’,” answered Laurie, quoting Amy, as he
went to partake of humble pie dutifully with his grandfather, who was
quite saintly in temper and overwhelmingly respectful in manner all the
rest of the day.

Everyone thought the matter ended and the little cloud blown over, but
the mischief was done, for though others forgot it, Meg remembered.
She never alluded to a certain person, but she thought of him a good
deal, dreamed dreams more than ever, and once Jo, rummaging her
sister’s desk for stamps, found a bit of paper scribbled over with the
words, ‘Mrs. John Brooke’, whereat she groaned tragically and cast it
into the fire, feeling that Laurie’s prank had hastened the evil day
for her.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

PLEASANT MEADOWS

Like sunshine after a storm were the peaceful weeks which followed.
The invalids improved rapidly, and Mr. March began to talk of returning
early in the new year. Beth was soon able to lie on the study sofa all
day, amusing herself with the well-beloved cats at first, and in time
with doll’s sewing, which had fallen sadly behind-hand. Her once
active limbs were so stiff and feeble that Jo took her for a daily
airing about the house in her strong arms. Meg cheerfully blackened
and burned her white hands cooking delicate messes for ‘the dear’,
while Amy, a loyal slave of the ring, celebrated her return by giving
away as many of her treasures as she could prevail on her sisters to
accept.

As Christmas approached, the usual mysteries began to haunt the house,
and Jo frequently convulsed the family by proposing utterly impossible
or magnificently absurd ceremonies, in honor of this unusually merry
Christmas. Laurie was equally impracticable, and would have had
bonfires, skyrockets, and triumphal arches, if he had had his own way.
After many skirmishes and snubbings, the ambitious pair were considered
effectually quenched and went about with forlorn faces, which were
rather belied by explosions of laughter when the two got together.

Several days of unusually mild weather fitly ushered in a splendid
Christmas Day. Hannah ‘felt in her bones’ that it was going to be an
unusually fine day, and she proved herself a true prophetess, for
everybody and everything seemed bound to produce a grand success. To
begin with, Mr. March wrote that he should soon be with them, then Beth
felt uncommonly well that morning, and, being dressed in her mother’s
gift, a soft crimson merino wrapper, was borne in high triumph to the
window to behold the offering of Jo and Laurie. The Unquenchables had
done their best to be worthy of the name, for like elves they had
worked by night and conjured up a comical surprise. Out in the garden
stood a stately snow maiden, crowned with holly, bearing a basket of
fruit and flowers in one hand, a great roll of music in the other, a
perfect rainbow of an Afghan round her chilly shoulders, and a
Christmas carol issuing from her lips on a pink paper streamer.

THE JUNGFRAU TO BETH

God bless you, dear Queen Bess!
May nothing you dismay,
But health and peace and happiness
Be yours, this Christmas day.

Here's fruit to feed our busy bee,
And flowers for her nose.
Here's music for her pianee,
An afghan for her toes,

A portrait of Joanna, see,
By Raphael No. 2,
Who laboured with great industry
To make it fair and true.

Accept a ribbon red, I beg,
For Madam Purrer's tail,
And ice cream made by lovely Peg,
A Mont Blanc in a pail.

Their dearest love my makers laid
Within my breast of snow.
Accept it, and the Alpine maid,
From Laurie and from Jo.

How Beth laughed when she saw it, how Laurie ran up and down to bring
in the gifts, and what ridiculous speeches Jo made as she presented
them.

“I’m so full of happiness, that if Father was only here, I couldn’t
hold one drop more,” said Beth, quite sighing with contentment as Jo
carried her off to the study to rest after the excitement, and to
refresh herself with some of the delicious grapes the ‘Jungfrau’ had
sent her.

“So am I,” added Jo, slapping the pocket wherein reposed the
long-desired Undine and Sintram.

“I’m sure I am,” echoed Amy, poring over the engraved copy of the
Madonna and Child, which her mother had given her in a pretty frame.

“Of course I am!” cried Meg, smoothing the silvery folds of her first
silk dress, for Mr. Laurence had insisted on giving it. “How can I be
otherwise?” said Mrs. March gratefully, as her eyes went from her
husband’s letter to Beth’s smiling face, and her hand 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 workaday world, things do happen in the
delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort it is. Half an hour
after everyone had said they were so happy they could only hold one
drop more, the drop came. Laurie opened the parlor door and popped his
head in very quietly. He might just as well have turned a somersault
and uttered an Indian war whoop, for his face was so full of suppressed
excitement and his voice so treacherously joyful that everyone jumped
up, though he only said, in a queer, breathless voice, “Here’s another
Christmas present for the March family.”

Before the words were well out of his mouth, he was whisked away
somehow, and in his place appeared a tall man, muffled up to the eyes,
leaning on the arm of another tall man, who tried to say something and
couldn’t. Of course there was a general stampede, and for several
minutes everybody seemed to lose their wits, for the strangest things
were done, and no one said a word.

Mr. March became invisible in the embrace of four pairs of loving arms.
Jo disgraced herself by nearly fainting away, and had to be doctored by
Laurie in the china closet. Mr. Brooke kissed Meg entirely by mistake,
as he somewhat incoherently explained. And Amy, the dignified, tumbled
over a stool, and never stopping to get up, hugged and cried over her
father’s boots in the most touching manner. Mrs. March was the first
to recover herself, and held up her hand with a warning, “Hush!
Remember Beth.”

But it was too late. The study door flew open, the little red wrapper
appeared on the threshold, joy put strength into the feeble limbs, and
Beth ran straight into her father’s arms. Never mind what happened
just after that, for the full hearts overflowed, washing away the
bitterness of the past and leaving only the sweetness of the present.

It was not at all romantic, but a hearty laugh set everybody straight
again, for Hannah was discovered behind the door, sobbing over the fat
turkey, which she had forgotten to put down when she rushed up from the
kitchen. As the laugh subsided, Mrs. March began to thank Mr. Brooke
for his faithful care of her husband, at which Mr. Brooke suddenly
remembered that Mr. March needed rest, and seizing Laurie, he
precipitately retired. Then the two invalids were ordered to repose,
which they did, by both sitting in one big chair and talking hard.

Mr. March told how he had longed to surprise them, and how, when the
fine weather came, he had been allowed by his doctor to take advantage
of it, how devoted Brooke had been, and how he was altogether a most
estimable and upright young man. Why Mr. March paused a minute just
there, and after a glance at Meg, who was violently poking the fire,
looked at his wife with an inquiring lift of the eyebrows, I leave you
to imagine. Also why Mrs. March gently nodded her head and asked,
rather abruptly, if he wouldn’t like to have something to eat. Jo saw
and understood the look, and she stalked grimly away to get wine and
beef tea, muttering to herself as she slammed the door, “I hate
estimable young men with brown eyes!”

There never was such a Christmas dinner as they had that day. The fat
turkey was a sight to behold, when Hannah sent him up, stuffed,
browned, and decorated. So was the plum pudding, which melted in one’s
mouth, likewise the jellies, in which Amy reveled like a fly in a
honeypot. Everything turned out well, which was a mercy, Hannah said,
“For my mind was that flustered, Mum, that it’s a merrycle I didn’t
roast the pudding, and stuff the turkey with raisins, let alone bilin’
of it in a cloth.”

Mr. Laurence and his grandson dined with them, also Mr. Brooke, at whom
Jo glowered darkly, to Laurie’s infinite amusement. Two easy chairs
stood side by side at the head of the table, in which sat Beth and her
father, feasting modestly on chicken and a little fruit. They drank
healths, told stories, sang songs, ‘reminisced’, as the old folks say,
and had a thoroughly good time. A sleigh ride had been planned, but the
girls would not leave their father, so the guests departed early, and
as twilight gathered, the happy family sat together round the fire.

“Just a year ago we were groaning over the dismal Christmas we expected
to have. Do you remember?” asked Jo, breaking a short pause which had
followed a long conversation about many things.

“Rather a pleasant year on the whole!” said Meg, smiling at the fire,
and congratulating herself on having treated Mr. Brooke with dignity.

“I think it’s been a pretty hard one,” observed Amy, watching the light
shine on her ring with thoughtful eyes.

“I’m glad it’s over, because we’ve got you back,” whispered Beth, who
sat on her father’s knee.

“Rather a rough road for you to travel, my little pilgrims, especially
the latter part of it. But you have got on bravely, and I think the
burdens are in a fair way to tumble off very soon,” said Mr. March,
looking with fatherly satisfaction at the four young faces gathered
round him.

“How do you know? Did Mother tell you?” asked Jo.

“Not much. Straws show which way the wind blows, and I’ve made several
discoveries today.”

“Oh, tell us what they are!” cried Meg, who sat beside him.

“Here is one.” And taking up the hand which lay on the arm of his
chair, he pointed to the roughened forefinger, a burn on the back, and
two or three little hard spots on the palm. “I remember a time when
this hand was white and smooth, and your first care was to keep it so.
It was very pretty then, but to me it is much prettier now, for in this
seeming blemishes I read a little history. A burnt offering has been
made to vanity, this hardened palm has earned something better than
blisters, and I’m sure the sewing done by these pricked fingers will
last a long time, so much good will went into the stitches. Meg, my
dear, I value the womanly skill which keeps home happy more than white
hands or fashionable accomplishments. I’m proud to shake this good,
industrious little hand, and hope I shall not soon be asked to give it
away.”

If Meg had wanted a reward for hours of patient labor, she received it
in the hearty pressure of her father’s hand and the approving smile he
gave her.

“What about Jo? Please say something nice, for she has tried so hard
and been so very, very good to me,” said Beth in her father’s ear.

He laughed and looked across at the tall girl who sat opposite, with an
unusually mild expression in her face.

“In spite of the curly crop, I don’t see the ‘son Jo’ whom I left a
year ago,” said Mr. March. “I see a young lady who pins her collar
straight, laces her boots neatly, and neither whistles, talks slang,
nor lies on the rug as she used to do. Her face is rather thin and
pale just now, with watching and anxiety, but I like to look at it, for
it has grown gentler, and her voice is lower. She doesn’t bounce, but
moves quietly, and takes care of a certain little person in a motherly
way which delights me. I rather miss my wild girl, but if I get a
strong, helpful, tenderhearted woman in her place, I shall feel quite
satisfied. I don’t know whether the shearing sobered our black sheep,
but I do know that in all Washington I couldn’t find anything beautiful
enough to be bought with the five-and-twenty dollars my good girl sent
me.”

Jo’s keen eyes were rather dim for a minute, and her thin face grew
rosy in the firelight as she received her father’s praise, feeling that
she did deserve a portion of it.

“Now, Beth,” said Amy, longing for her turn, but ready to wait.

“There’s so little of her, I’m afraid to say much, for fear she will
slip away altogether, though she is not so shy as she used to be,”
began their father cheerfully. But recollecting how nearly he had lost
her, he held her close, saying tenderly, with her cheek against his
own, “I’ve got you safe, my Beth, and I’ll keep you so, please God.”

After a minute’s silence, he looked down at Amy, who sat on the cricket
at his feet, and said, with a caress of the shining hair…

“I observed that Amy took drumsticks at dinner, ran errands for her
mother all the afternoon, gave Meg her place tonight, and has waited on
every one with patience and good humor. I also observe that she does
not fret much nor look in the glass, and has not even mentioned a very
pretty ring which she wears, so I conclude that she has learned to
think of other people more and of herself less, and has decided to try
and mold her character as carefully as she molds her little clay
figures. I am glad of this, for though I should be very proud of a
graceful statue made by her, I shall be infinitely prouder of a lovable
daughter with a talent for making life beautiful to herself and others.”

“What are you thinking of, Beth?” asked Jo, when Amy had thanked her
father and told about her ring.

“I read in Pilgrim’s Progress today how, after many troubles,
Christian and Hopeful came to a pleasant green meadow where lilies
bloomed all year round, and there they rested happily, as we do now,
before they went on to their journey’s end,” answered Beth, adding, as
she slipped out of her father’s arms and went to the instrument, “It’s
singing time now, and I want to be in my old place. I’ll try to sing
the song of the shepherd boy which the Pilgrims heard. I made the
music for Father, because he likes the verses.”

So, sitting at the dear little piano, Beth softly touched the keys, and
in the sweet voice they had never thought to hear again, sang to her
own accompaniment the quaint hymn, which was a singularly fitting song
for her.

He that is down need fear no fall,
He that is low no pride.
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.

I am content with what I have,
Little be it, or much.
And, Lord!  Contentment still I crave,
Because Thou savest such.

Fulness to them a burden is,
That go on pilgrimage.
Here little, and hereafter bliss,
Is best from age to age!

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

AUNT MARCH SETTLES THE QUESTION

Like bees swarming after their queen, mother and daughters hovered
about Mr. March the next day, neglecting everything to look at, wait
upon, and listen to the new invalid, who was in a fair way to be killed
by kindness. As he sat propped up in a big chair by Beth’s sofa, with
the other three close by, and Hannah popping in her head now and then
‘to peek at the dear man’, nothing seemed needed to complete their
happiness. But something was needed, and the elder ones felt it,
though none confessed the fact. Mr. and Mrs. March looked at one
another with an anxious expression, as their eyes followed Meg. Jo had
sudden fits of sobriety, and was seen to shake her fist at Mr. Brooke’s
umbrella, which had been left in the hall. Meg was absent-minded, shy,
and silent, started when the bell rang, and colored when John’s name
was mentioned. Amy said, “Everyone seemed waiting for something, and
couldn’t settle down, which was queer, since Father was safe at home,”
and Beth innocently wondered why their neighbors didn’t run over as
usual.

Laurie went by in the afternoon, and seeing Meg at the window, seemed
suddenly possessed with a melodramatic fit, for he fell down on one
knee in the snow, beat his breast, tore his hair, and clasped his hands
imploringly, as if begging some boon. And when Meg told him to behave
himself and go away, he wrung imaginary tears out of his handkerchief,
and staggered round the corner as if in utter despair.

“What does the goose mean?” said Meg, laughing and trying to look
unconscious.

“He’s showing you how your John will go on by-and-by. Touching, isn’t
it?” answered Jo scornfully.

“Don’t say my John, it isn’t proper or true,” but Meg’s voice lingered
over the words as if they sounded pleasant to her. “Please don’t
plague me, Jo, I’ve told you I don’t care much about him, and there
isn’t to be anything said, but we are all to be friendly, and go on as
before.”

“We can’t, for something has been said, and Laurie’s mischief has
spoiled you for me. I see it, and so does Mother. You are not like
your old self a bit, and seem ever so far away from me. I don’t mean
to plague you and will bear it like a man, but I do wish it was all
settled. I hate to wait, so if you mean ever to do it, make haste and
have it over quickly,” said Jo pettishly.

“I can’t say anything till he speaks, and he won’t, because Father said
I was too young,” began Meg, bending over her work with a queer little
smile, which suggested that she did not quite agree with her father on
that point.

“If he did speak, you wouldn’t know what to say, but would cry or
blush, or let him have his own way, instead of giving a good, decided
no.”

“I’m not so silly and weak as you think. I know just what I should
say, for I’ve planned it all, so I needn’t be taken unawares. There’s
no knowing what may happen, and I wished to be prepared.”

Jo couldn’t help smiling at the important air which Meg had
unconsciously assumed and which was as becoming as the pretty color
varying in her cheeks.

“Would you mind telling me what you’d say?” asked Jo more respectfully.

“Not at all. You are sixteen now, quite old enough to be my 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 anyone very much, and he liked you.” Meg
spoke as if to herself, and glanced out at the lane where she had often
seen lovers walking together in the summer twilight.

“I thought you were going to tell your speech to that man,” said Jo,
rudely shortening her sister’s little reverie.

“Oh, I should merely say, quite calmly and decidedly, ‘Thank you, Mr.
Brooke, you are very kind, but I agree with Father that I am too young
to enter into any engagement at present, so please say no more, but let
us be friends as we were.’”

“Hum, that’s stiff and cool enough! I don’t believe you’ll ever say
it, and I know he won’t be satisfied if you do. If he goes on like the
rejected lovers in books, you’ll give in, rather than hurt his
feelings.”

“No, I won’t. I shall tell him I’ve made up my mind, and shall walk
out of the room with dignity.”

Meg rose as she spoke, and was just going to rehearse the dignified
exit, when a step in the hall made her fly into her seat and begin to
sew as fast as if her life depended on finishing that particular seam
in a given time. Jo smothered a laugh at the sudden change, and when
someone gave a modest tap, opened the door with a grim aspect which was
anything but hospitable.

“Good afternoon. I came to get my umbrella, that is, to see how your
father finds himself today,” said Mr. Brooke, getting a trifle confused
as his eyes went from one telltale face to the other.

“It’s very well, he’s in the rack. I’ll get him, and tell it you are
here.” And having jumbled her father and the umbrella well together in
her reply, Jo slipped out of the room to give Meg a chance to make her
speech and air her dignity. But the instant she vanished, Meg began to
sidle toward the door, murmuring…

“Mother will like to see you. Pray sit down, I’ll call her.”

“Don’t go. Are you afraid of me, Margaret?” and Mr. Brooke looked so
hurt that Meg thought she must have done something very rude. She
blushed up to the little curls on her forehead, for he had never called
her Margaret before, and she was surprised to find how natural and
sweet it seemed to hear him say it. Anxious to appear friendly and at
her ease, she put out her hand with a confiding gesture, and said
gratefully…

“How can I be afraid when you have been so kind to Father? I only wish
I could thank you for it.”

“Shall I tell you how?” asked Mr. Brooke, holding the small hand fast
in both his own, and looking down at Meg with so much love in the brown
eyes that her heart began to flutter, and she both longed to run away
and to stop and listen.

“Oh no, please don’t, I’d rather not,” she said, trying to withdraw her
hand, and looking frightened in spite of her denial.

“I won’t trouble you. I only want to know if you care for me a little,
Meg. I love you so much, dear,” added Mr. Brooke tenderly.

This was the moment for the calm, proper speech, but Meg didn’t make
it. She forgot every word of it, hung her head, and answered, “I don’t
know,” so softly that John had to stoop down to catch the foolish
little reply.

He seemed to think it was worth the trouble, for he smiled to himself
as if quite satisfied, pressed the plump hand gratefully, and said in
his most persuasive tone, “Will you try and find out? I want to know
so much, for I can’t go to work with any heart until I learn whether I
am to have my reward in the end or not.”

“I’m too young,” faltered Meg, wondering why she was so fluttered, yet
rather enjoying it.

“I’ll wait, and in the meantime, you could be learning to like me.
Would it be a very hard lesson, dear?”

“Not if I chose to learn it, but. . .”

“Please choose to learn, Meg. I love to teach, and this is easier than
German,” broke in John, getting possession of the other hand, so that
she had no way of hiding her face as he bent to look into it.

His tone was properly beseeching, but stealing a shy look at him, Meg
saw that his eyes were merry as well as tender, and that he wore the
satisfied smile of one who had no doubt of his success. This nettled
her. Annie Moffat’s foolish lessons in coquetry came into her mind,
and the love of power, which sleeps in the bosoms of the best of little
women, woke up all of a sudden and took possession of her. She felt
excited and strange, and not knowing what else to do, followed a
capricious impulse, and, withdrawing her hands, said petulantly, “I
don’t choose. Please go away and let me be!”

Poor Mr. Brooke looked as if his lovely castle in the air was tumbling
about his ears, for he had never seen Meg in such a mood before, and it
rather bewildered him.

“Do you really mean that?” he asked anxiously, following her as she
walked away.

“Yes, I do. I don’t want to be worried about such things. Father says
I needn’t, it’s too soon and I’d rather not.”

“Mayn’t I hope you’ll change your mind by-and-by? I’ll wait and say
nothing till you have had more time. Don’t play with me, Meg. I
didn’t think that of you.”

“Don’t think of me at all. I’d rather you wouldn’t,” said Meg, taking
a naughty satisfaction in trying her lover’s patience and her own power.

He was grave and pale now, and looked decidedly more like the novel
heroes whom she admired, but he neither slapped his forehead nor
tramped about the room as they did. He just stood looking at her so
wistfully, so tenderly, that she found her heart relenting in spite of
herself. What would have happened next I cannot say, if Aunt March had
not come hobbling in at this interesting minute.

The old lady couldn’t resist her longing to see her nephew, for she had
met Laurie as she took her airing, and hearing of Mr. March’s arrival,
drove straight out to see him. The family were all busy in the back
part of the house, and she had made her way quietly in, hoping to
surprise them. She did surprise two of them so much that Meg started
as if she had seen a ghost, and Mr. Brooke vanished into the study.

“Bless me, what’s all this?” cried the old lady with a rap of her cane
as she glanced from the pale young gentleman to the scarlet young lady.

“It’s Father’s friend. I’m so surprised to see you!” stammered Meg,
feeling that she was in for a lecture now.

“That’s evident,” returned Aunt March, sitting down. “But what is
Father’s friend saying to make you look like a peony? There’s mischief
going on, and I insist upon knowing what it is,” with another rap.

“We were only talking. Mr. Brooke came for his umbrella,” began Meg,
wishing that Mr. Brooke and the umbrella were safely out of the house.

“Brooke? That boy’s tutor? Ah! I understand now. I know all about
it. Jo blundered into a wrong message in one of your Father’s letters,
and I made her tell me. You haven’t gone and accepted him, child?”
cried Aunt March, looking scandalized.

“Hush! He’ll hear. Shan’t I call Mother?” said Meg, much troubled.

“Not yet. I’ve something to say to you, and I must free my mind at
once. Tell me, do you mean to marry this Cook? If you do, not one
penny of my money ever goes to you. Remember that, and be a sensible
girl,” said the old lady impressively.

Now Aunt March possessed in perfection the art of rousing the spirit of
opposition in the gentlest people, and enjoyed doing it. The best of
us have a spice of perversity in us, especially when we are young and
in love. If Aunt March had begged Meg to accept John Brooke, she would
probably have declared she couldn’t think of it, but as she was
preemptorily ordered not to like him, she immediately made up her mind
that she would. Inclination as well as perversity made the decision
easy, and being already much excited, Meg opposed the old lady with
unusual spirit.

“I shall marry whom I please, Aunt March, and you can leave your money
to anyone you like,” she said, nodding her head with a resolute air.

“Highty-tighty! Is that the way you take my advice, Miss? You’ll be
sorry for it by-and-by, when you’ve tried love in a cottage and found
it a failure.”

“It can’t be a worse one than some people find in big houses,” retorted
Meg.

Aunt March put on her glasses and took a look at the girl, for she did
not know her in this new mood. Meg hardly knew herself, she felt so
brave and independent, so glad to defend John and assert her right to
love him, if she liked. Aunt March saw that she had begun wrong, and
after a little pause, made a fresh start, saying as mildly as she
could, “Now, Meg, my dear, be reasonable and take my advice. I mean it
kindly, and don’t want you to spoil your whole life by making a mistake
at the beginning. You ought to marry well and help your family. It’s
your duty to make a rich match and it ought to be impressed upon you.”

“Father and Mother don’t think so. They like John though he is poor.”

“Your parents, my dear, have no more worldly wisdom than a pair of
babies.”

“I’m glad of it,” cried Meg stoutly.

Aunt March took no notice, but went on with her lecture. “This Rook is
poor and hasn’t got any rich relations, has he?”

“No, but he has many warm friends.”

“You can’t live on friends, try it and see how cool they’ll grow. He
hasn’t any business, has he?”

“Not yet. Mr. Laurence is going to help him.”

“That won’t last long. James Laurence is a crotchety old fellow and
not to be depended on. So you intend to marry a man without money,
position, or business, and go on working harder than you do now, when
you might be comfortable all your days by minding me and doing better?
I thought you had more sense, Meg.”

“I couldn’t do better if I waited half my life! John is good and wise,
he’s got heaps of talent, he’s willing to work and sure to get on, he’s
so energetic and brave. Everyone likes and respects him, and I’m proud
to think he cares for me, though I’m so poor and young and silly,” said
Meg, looking prettier than ever in her earnestness.

“He knows you have got rich relations, child. That’s the secret of his
liking, I suspect.”

“Aunt March, how dare you say such a thing? John is above such
meanness, and I won’t listen to you a minute if you talk so,” cried Meg
indignantly, forgetting everything but the injustice of the old lady’s
suspicions. “My John wouldn’t marry for money, any more than I would.
We are willing to work and we mean to wait. I’m not afraid of being
poor, for I’ve been happy so far, and I know I shall be with him
because he loves me, and I…”

Meg stopped there, remembering all of a sudden that she hadn’t made up
her mind, that she had told ‘her John’ to go away, and that he might be
overhearing her inconsistent remarks.

Aunt March was very angry, for she had set her heart on having her
pretty niece make a fine match, and something in the girl’s happy young
face made the lonely old woman feel both sad and sour.

“Well, I wash my hands of the whole affair! You are a willful child,
and you’ve lost more than you know by this piece of folly. No, I won’t
stop. I’m disappointed in you, and haven’t spirits to see your father
now. Don’t expect anything from me when you are married. Your Mr.
Brooke’s friends must take care of you. I’m done with you forever.”

And slamming the door in Meg’s face, Aunt March drove off in high
dudgeon. She seemed to take all the girl’s courage with her, for when
left alone, Meg stood for a moment, undecided whether to laugh or cry.
Before she could make up her mind, she was taken possession of by Mr.
Brooke, who said all in one breath, “I couldn’t help hearing, Meg.
Thank you for defending me, and Aunt March for proving that you do care
for me a little bit.”

“I didn’t know how much till she abused you,” began Meg.

“And I needn’t go away, but may stay and be happy, may I, dear?”

Here was another fine chance to make the crushing speech and the
stately exit, but Meg never thought of doing either, and disgraced
herself forever in Jo’s eyes by meekly whispering, “Yes, John,” and
hiding her face on Mr. Brooke’s waistcoat.

Fifteen minutes after Aunt March’s departure, Jo came softly
downstairs, paused an instant at the parlor door, and hearing no sound
within, nodded and smiled with a satisfied expression, saying to
herself, “She has seen him away as we planned, and that affair is
settled. I’ll go and hear the fun, and have a good laugh over it.”

But poor Jo never got her laugh, for she was transfixed upon the
threshold by a spectacle which held her there, staring with her mouth
nearly as wide open as her eyes. Going in to exult over a fallen enemy
and to praise a strong-minded sister for the banishment of an
objectionable lover, it certainly was a shock to behold the aforesaid
enemy serenely sitting on the sofa, with the strongminded sister
enthroned upon his knee and wearing an expression of the most abject
submission. Jo gave a sort of gasp, as if a cold shower bath had
suddenly fallen upon her, for such an unexpected turning of the tables
actually took her breath away. At the odd sound the lovers turned and
saw her. Meg jumped up, looking both proud and shy, but ‘that man’, as
Jo called him, actually laughed and said coolly, as he kissed the
astonished newcomer, “Sister Jo, congratulate us!”

That was adding insult to injury, it was altogether too much, and
making some wild demonstration with her hands, Jo vanished without a
word. Rushing upstairs, she startled the invalids by exclaiming
tragically as she burst into the room, “Oh, do somebody go down quick!
John Brooke is acting dreadfully, and Meg likes it!”

Mr. and Mrs. March left the room with speed, and casting herself upon
the bed, Jo cried and scolded tempestuously as she told the awful news
to Beth and Amy. The little girls, however, considered it a most
agreeable and interesting event, and Jo got little comfort from them,
so she went up to her refuge in the garret, and confided her troubles
to the rats.

Nobody ever knew what went on in the parlor that afternoon, but a great
deal of talking was done, and quiet Mr. Brooke astonished his friends
by the eloquence and spirit with which he pleaded his suit, told his
plans, and persuaded them to arrange everything just as he wanted it.

The tea bell rang before he had finished describing the paradise which
he meant to earn for Meg, and he proudly took her in to supper, both
looking so happy that Jo hadn’t the heart to be jealous or dismal. Amy
was very much impressed by John’s devotion and Meg’s dignity, Beth
beamed at them from a distance, while Mr. and Mrs. March surveyed the
young couple with such tender satisfaction that it was perfectly
evident Aunt March was right in calling them as ‘unworldly as a pair of
babies’. No one ate much, but everyone looked very happy, and the old
room seemed to brighten up amazingly when the first romance of the
family began there.

“You can’t say nothing pleasant ever happens now, can you, Meg?” said
Amy, trying to decide how she would group the lovers in a sketch she
was planning to make.

“No, I’m sure I can’t. How much has happened since I said that! It
seems a year ago,” answered Meg, who was in a blissful dream lifted far
above such common things as bread and butter.

“The joys come close upon the sorrows this time, and I rather think the
changes have begun,” said Mrs. March. “In most families there comes,
now and then, a year full of events. This has been such a one, but it
ends well, after all.”

“Hope the next will end better,” muttered Jo, who found it very hard to
see Meg absorbed in a stranger before her face, for Jo loved a few
persons very dearly and dreaded to have their affection lost or
lessened in any way.

“I hope the third year from this will end better. I mean it shall, if
I live to work out my plans,” said Mr. Brooke, smiling at Meg, as if
everything had become possible to him now.

“Doesn’t it seem very long to wait?” asked Amy, who was in a hurry for
the wedding.

“I’ve got so much to learn before I shall be ready, it seems a short
time to me,” answered Meg, with a sweet gravity in her face never seen
there before.

“You have only to wait, I am to do the work,” said John beginning his
labors by picking up Meg’s napkin, with an expression which caused Jo
to shake her head, and then say to herself with an air of relief as the
front door banged, “Here comes Laurie. Now we shall have some sensible
conversation.”

But Jo was mistaken, for Laurie came prancing in, overflowing with good
spirits, bearing a great bridal-looking bouquet for ‘Mrs. John Brooke’,
and evidently laboring under the delusion that the whole affair had
been brought about by his excellent management.

“I knew Brooke would have it all his own way, he always does, for when
he makes up his mind to accomplish anything, it’s done though the sky
falls,” said Laurie, when he had presented his offering and his
congratulations.

“Much obliged for that recommendation. I take it as a good omen for
the future and invite you to my wedding on the spot,” answered Mr.
Brooke, who felt at peace with all mankind, even his mischievous pupil.

“I’ll come if I’m at the ends of the earth, for the sight of Jo’s face
alone on that occasion would be worth a long journey. You don’t look
festive, ma’am, what’s the matter?” asked Laurie, following her into a
corner of the parlor, whither all had adjourned to greet Mr. Laurence.

“I don’t approve of the match, but I’ve made up my mind to bear it, and
shall not say a word against it,” said Jo solemnly. “You can’t know
how hard it is for me to give up Meg,” she continued with a little
quiver in her voice.

“You don’t give her up. You only go halves,” said Laurie consolingly.

“It can never be the same again. I’ve lost my dearest friend,” sighed
Jo.

“You’ve got me, anyhow. I’m not good for much, I know, but I’ll stand
by you, Jo, all the days of my life. Upon my word I will!” and Laurie
meant what he said.

“I know you will, and I’m ever so much obliged. You are always a great
comfort to me, Teddy,” returned Jo, gratefully shaking hands.

“Well, now, don’t be dismal, there’s a good fellow. It’s all right you
see. Meg is happy, Brooke will fly round and get settled immediately,
Grandpa will attend to him, and it will be very jolly to see Meg in her
own little house. We’ll have capital times after she is gone, for I
shall be through college before long, and then we’ll go abroad on some
nice trip or other. Wouldn’t that console you?”

“I rather think it would, but there’s no knowing what may happen in
three years,” said Jo thoughtfully.

“That’s true. Don’t you wish you could take a look forward and see
where we shall all be then? I do,” returned Laurie.

“I think not, for I might see something sad, and everyone looks so
happy now, I don’t believe they could be much improved.” And Jo’s eyes
went slowly round the room, brightening as they looked, for the
prospect was a pleasant one.

Father and Mother sat together, quietly reliving the first chapter of
the romance which for them began some twenty years ago. Amy was drawing
the lovers, who sat apart in a beautiful world of their own, the light
of which touched their faces with a grace the little artist could not
copy. Beth lay on her sofa, talking cheerily with her old friend, who
held her little hand as if he felt that it possessed the power to lead
him along the peaceful way she walked. Jo lounged in her favorite low
seat, with the grave quiet look which best became her, and Laurie,
leaning on the back of her chair, his chin on a level with her curly
head, smiled with his friendliest aspect, and nodded at her in the long
glass which reflected them both.

So the curtain falls upon Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Whether it ever
rises again, depends upon the reception given the first act of the
domestic drama called Little Women.

LITTLE WOMEN PART 2

In order that we may start afresh and go to Meg’s wedding…

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

GOSSIP

In order that we may start afresh and go to Meg’s wedding with free
minds, it will be well to begin with a little gossip about the Marches.
And here let me premise that if any of the elders think there is too
much ‘lovering’ in the story, as I fear they may (I’m not afraid the
young folks will make that objection), I can only say with Mrs. March,
“What can you expect when I have four gay girls in the house, and a
dashing young neighbor over the way?”

The three years that have passed have brought but few changes to the
quiet family. The war is over, and Mr. March safely at home, busy with
his books and the small parish which found in him a minister by nature
as by grace, a quiet, studious man, rich in the wisdom that is better
than learning, the charity which calls all mankind ‘brother’, the piety
that blossoms into character, making it august and lovely.

These attributes, in spite of poverty and the strict integrity which
shut him out from the more worldly successes, attracted to him many
admirable persons, as naturally as sweet herbs draw bees, and as
naturally he gave them the honey into which fifty years of hard
experience had distilled no bitter drop. Earnest young men found the
gray-headed scholar as young at heart as they; thoughtful or troubled
women instinctively brought their doubts to him, sure of finding the
gentlest sympathy, the wisest counsel. Sinners told their sins to the
pure-hearted old man and were both rebuked and saved. Gifted men found
a companion in him. Ambitious men caught glimpses of nobler ambitions
than their own, and even worldlings confessed that his beliefs were
beautiful and true, although ‘they wouldn’t pay’.

To outsiders the five energetic women seemed to rule the house, and so
they did in many things, but the quiet scholar, sitting among his
books, was still the head of the family, the household conscience,
anchor, and comforter, for to him the busy, anxious women always turned
in troublous times, finding him, in the truest sense of those sacred
words, husband and father.

The girls gave their hearts into their mother’s keeping, their souls
into their father’s, and to both parents, who lived and labored so
faithfully for them, they gave a love that grew with their growth and
bound them tenderly together by the sweetest tie which blesses life and
outlives death.

Mrs. March is as brisk and cheery, though rather grayer, than when we
saw her last, and just now so absorbed in Meg’s affairs that the
hospitals and homes still full of wounded ‘boys’ and soldiers’ widows,
decidedly miss the motherly missionary’s visits.

John Brooke did his duty manfully for a year, got wounded, was sent
home, and not allowed to return. He received no stars or bars, but he
deserved them, for he cheerfully risked all he had, and life and love
are very precious when both are in full bloom. Perfectly resigned to
his discharge, he devoted himself to getting well, preparing for
business, and earning a home for Meg. With the good sense and sturdy
independence that characterized him, he refused Mr. Laurence’s more
generous offers, and accepted the place of bookkeeper, feeling better
satisfied to begin with an honestly earned salary than by running any
risks with borrowed money.

Meg had spent the time in working as well as waiting, growing womanly
in character, wise in housewifely arts, and prettier than ever, for
love is a great beautifier. She had her girlish ambitions and hopes,
and felt some disappointment at the humble way in which the new life
must begin. Ned Moffat had just married Sallie Gardiner, and Meg
couldn’t help contrasting their fine house and carriage, many gifts,
and splendid outfit with her own, and secretly wishing she could have
the same. But somehow envy and discontent soon vanished when she
thought of all the patient love and labor John had put into the little
home awaiting her, and when they sat together in the twilight, talking
over their small plans, the future always grew so beautiful and bright
that she forgot Sallie’s splendor and felt herself the richest,
happiest girl in Christendom.

Jo never went back to Aunt March, for the old lady took such a fancy to
Amy that she bribed her with the offer of drawing lessons from one of
the best teachers going, and for the sake of this advantage, Amy would
have served a far harder mistress. So she gave her mornings to duty,
her afternoons to pleasure, and prospered finely. Jo meantime devoted
herself to literature and Beth, who remained delicate long after the
fever was a thing of the past. Not an invalid exactly, but never again
the rosy, healthy creature she had been, yet always hopeful, happy, and
serene, and busy with the quiet duties she loved, everyone’s friend,
and an angel in the house, long before those who loved her most had
learned to know it.

As long as The Spread Eagle paid her a dollar a column for her
‘rubbish’, as she called it, Jo felt herself a woman of means, and spun
her little romances diligently. But great plans fermented in her busy
brain and ambitious mind, and the old tin kitchen in the garret held a
slowly increasing pile of blotted manuscript, which was one day to
place the name of March upon the roll of fame.

Laurie, having dutifully gone to college to please his grandfather, was
now getting through it in the easiest possible manner to please
himself. A universal favorite, thanks to money, manners, much talent,
and the kindest heart that ever got its owner into scrapes by trying to
get other people out of them, he stood in great danger of being
spoiled, and probably would have been, like many another promising boy,
if he had not possessed a talisman against evil in the memory of the
kind old man who was bound up in his success, the motherly friend who
watched over him as if he were her son, and last, but not least by any
means, the knowledge that four innocent girls loved, admired, and
believed in him with all their hearts.

Being only ‘a glorious human boy’, of course he frolicked and flirted,
grew dandified, aquatic, sentimental, or gymnastic, as college fashions
ordained, hazed and was hazed, talked slang, and more than once came
perilously near suspension and expulsion. But as high spirits and the
love of fun were the causes of these pranks, he always managed to save
himself by frank confession, honorable atonement, or the irresistible
power of persuasion which he possessed in perfection. In fact, he
rather prided himself on his narrow escapes, and liked to thrill the
girls with graphic accounts of his triumphs over wrathful tutors,
dignified professors, and vanquished enemies. The ‘men of my class’,
were heroes in the eyes of the girls, who never wearied of the exploits
of ‘our fellows’, and were frequently allowed to bask in the smiles of
these great creatures, when Laurie brought them home with him.

Amy especially enjoyed this high honor, and became quite a belle among
them, for her ladyship early felt and learned to use the gift of
fascination with which she was endowed. Meg was too much absorbed in
her private and particular John to care for any other lords of
creation, and Beth too shy to do more than peep at them and wonder how
Amy dared to order them about so, but Jo felt quite in her own element,
and found it very difficult to refrain from imitating the gentlemanly
attitudes, phrases, and feats, which seemed more natural to her than
the decorums prescribed for young ladies. They all liked Jo immensely,
but never fell in love with her, though very few escaped without paying
the tribute of a sentimental sigh or two at Amy’s shrine. And speaking
of sentiment brings us very naturally to the ‘Dovecote’.

That was the name of the little brown house Mr. Brooke had prepared for
Meg’s first home. Laurie had christened it, saying it was highly
appropriate to the gentle lovers who ‘went on together like a pair of
turtledoves, with first a bill and then a coo’. It was a tiny house,
with a little garden behind and a lawn about as big as a pocket
handkerchief in the front. Here Meg meant to have a fountain,
shrubbery, and a profusion of lovely flowers, though just at present
the fountain was represented by a weather-beaten urn, very like a
dilapidated slopbowl, the shrubbery consisted of several young larches,
undecided whether to live or die, and the profusion of flowers was
merely hinted by regiments of sticks to show where seeds were planted.
But inside, it was altogether charming, and the happy bride saw no
fault from garret to cellar. To be sure, the hall was so narrow it was
fortunate that they had no piano, for one never could have been got in
whole, the dining room was so small that six people were a tight fit,
and the kitchen stairs seemed built for the express purpose of
precipitating both servants and china pell-mell into the coalbin. But
once get used to these slight blemishes and nothing could be more
complete, for good sense and good taste had presided over the
furnishing, and the result was highly satisfactory. There were no
marble-topped tables, long mirrors, or lace curtains in the little
parlor, but simple furniture, plenty of books, a fine picture or two, a
stand of flowers in the bay window, and, scattered all about, the
pretty gifts which came from friendly hands and were the fairer for the
loving messages they brought.

I don’t think the Parian Psyche Laurie gave lost any of its beauty
because John put up the bracket it stood upon, that any upholsterer
could have draped the plain muslin curtains more gracefully than Amy’s
artistic hand, or that any store-room was ever better provided with
good wishes, merry words, and happy hopes than that in which Jo and her
mother put away Meg’s few boxes, barrels, and bundles, and I am morally
certain that the spandy new kitchen never could have looked so cozy and
neat if Hannah had not arranged every pot and pan a dozen times over,
and laid the fire all ready for lighting the minute ‘Mis. Brooke came
home’. I also doubt if any young matron ever began life with so rich a
supply of dusters, holders, and piece bags, for Beth made enough to
last till the silver wedding came round, and invented three different
kinds of dishcloths for the express service of the bridal china.

People who hire all these things done for them never know what they
lose, for the homeliest tasks get beautified if loving hands do them,
and Meg found so many proofs of this that everything in her small nest,
from the kitchen roller to the silver vase on her parlor table, was
eloquent of home love and tender forethought.

What happy times they had planning together, what solemn shopping
excursions, what funny mistakes they made, and what shouts of laughter
arose over Laurie’s ridiculous bargains. In his love of jokes, this
young gentleman, though nearly through college, was a much of a boy as
ever. His last whim had been to bring with him on his weekly visits
some new, useful, and ingenious article for the young housekeeper. Now
a bag of remarkable clothespins, next, a wonderful nutmeg grater which
fell to pieces at the first trial, a knife cleaner that spoiled all the
knives, or a sweeper that picked the nap neatly off the carpet and left
the dirt, labor-saving soap that took the skin off one’s hands,
infallible cements which stuck firmly to nothing but the fingers of the
deluded buyer, and every kind of tinware, from a toy savings bank for
odd pennies, to a wonderful boiler which would wash articles in its own
steam with every prospect of exploding in the process.

In vain Meg begged him to stop. John laughed at him, and Jo called him
‘Mr. Toodles’. He was possessed with a mania for patronizing Yankee
ingenuity, and seeing his friends fitly furnished forth. So each week
beheld some fresh absurdity.

Everything was done at last, even to Amy’s arranging different colored
soaps to match the different colored rooms, and Beth’s setting the
table for the first meal.

“Are you satisfied? Does it seem like home, and do you feel as if you
should be happy here?” asked Mrs. March, as she and her daughter went
through the new kingdom arm in arm, for just then they seemed to cling
together more tenderly than ever.

“Yes, Mother, perfectly satisfied, thanks to you all, and so happy that
I can’t talk about it,” with a look that was far better than words.

“If she only had a servant or two it would be all right,” said Amy,
coming out of the parlor, where she had been trying to decide whether
the bronze Mercury looked best on the whatnot or the mantlepiece.

“Mother and I have talked that over, and I have made up my mind to try
her way first. There will be so little to do that with Lotty to run my
errands and help me here and there, I shall only have enough work to
keep me from getting lazy or homesick,” answered Meg tranquilly.

“Sallie Moffat has four,” began Amy.

“If Meg had four, the house wouldn’t hold them, and master and missis
would have to camp in the garden,” broke in Jo, who, enveloped in a big
blue pinafore, was giving the last polish to the door handles.

“Sallie isn’t a poor man’s wife, and many maids are in keeping with her
fine establishment. Meg and John begin humbly, but I have a feeling
that there will be quite as much happiness in the little house as in
the big one. It’s a great mistake for young girls like Meg to leave
themselves nothing to do but dress, give orders, and gossip. When I
was first married, I used to long for my new clothes to wear out or get
torn, so that I might have the pleasure of mending them, for I got
heartily sick of doing fancywork and tending my pocket handkerchief.”

“Why didn’t you go into the kitchen and make messes, as Sallie says she
does to amuse herself, though they never turn out well and the servants
laugh at her,” said Meg.

“I did after a while, not to ‘mess’ but to learn of Hannah how things
should be done, that my servants need not laugh at me. It was play
then, but there came a time when I was truly grateful that I not only
possessed the will but the power to cook wholesome food for my little
girls, and help myself when I could no longer afford to hire help. You
begin at the other end, Meg, dear, but the lessons you learn now will
be of use to you by-and-by when John is a richer man, for the mistress
of a house, however splendid, should know how work ought to be done, if
she wishes to be well and honestly served.”

“Yes, Mother, I’m sure of that,” said Meg, listening respectfully to
the little lecture, for the best of women will hold forth upon the all
absorbing subject of house keeping. “Do you know I like this room most
of all in my baby house,” added Meg, a minute after, as they went
upstairs and she looked into her well-stored linen closet.

Beth was there, laying the snowy piles smoothly on the shelves and
exulting over the goodly array. All three laughed as Meg spoke, for
that linen closet was a joke. You see, having said that if Meg married
‘that Brooke’ she shouldn’t have a cent of her money, Aunt March was
rather in a quandary when time had appeased her wrath and made her
repent her vow. She never broke her word, and was much exercised in
her mind how to get round it, and at last devised a plan whereby she
could satisfy herself. Mrs. Carrol, Florence’s mamma, was ordered to
buy, have made, and marked a generous supply of house and table linen,
and send it as her present, all of which was faithfully done, but the
secret leaked out, and was greatly enjoyed by the family, for Aunt
March tried to look utterly unconscious, and insisted that she could
give nothing but the old-fashioned pearls long promised to the first
bride.

“That’s a housewifely taste which I am glad to see. I had a young
friend who set up housekeeping with six sheets, but she had finger
bowls for company and that satisfied her,” said Mrs. March, patting the
damask tablecloths, with a truly feminine appreciation of their
fineness.

“I haven’t a single finger bowl, but this is a setout that will last me
all my days, Hannah says.” And Meg looked quite contented, as well she
might.

A tall, broad-shouldered young fellow, with a cropped head, a felt
basin of a hat, and a flyaway coat, came tramping down the road at a
great pace, walked over the low fence without stopping to open the
gate, straight up to Mrs. March, with both hands out and a hearty…

“Here I am, Mother! Yes, it’s all right.”

The last words were in answer to the look the elder lady gave him, a
kindly questioning look which the handsome eyes met so frankly that the
little ceremony closed, as usual, with a motherly kiss.

“For Mrs. John Brooke, with the maker’s congratulations and
compliments. Bless you, Beth! What a refreshing spectacle you are,
Jo. Amy, you are getting altogether too handsome for a single lady.”

As Laurie spoke, he delivered a brown paper parcel to Meg, pulled
Beth’s hair ribbon, stared at Jo’s big pinafore, and fell into an
attitude of mock rapture before Amy, then shook hands all round, and
everyone began to talk.

“Where is John?” asked Meg anxiously.

“Stopped to get the license for tomorrow, ma’am.”

“Which side won the last match, Teddy?” inquired Jo, who persisted in
feeling an interest in manly sports despite her nineteen years.

“Ours, of course. Wish you’d been there to see.”

“How is the lovely Miss Randal?” asked Amy with a significant smile.

“More cruel than ever. Don’t you see how I’m pining away?” and Laurie
gave his broad chest a sounding slap and heaved a melodramatic sigh.

“What’s the last joke? Undo the bundle and see, Meg,” said Beth, eying
the knobby parcel with curiosity.

“It’s a useful thing to have in the house in case of fire or thieves,”
observed Laurie, as a watchman’s rattle appeared, amid the laughter of
the girls.

“Any time when John is away and you get frightened, Mrs. Meg, just
swing that out of the front window, and it will rouse the neighborhood
in a jiffy. Nice thing, isn’t it?” and Laurie gave them a sample of
its powers that made them cover up their ears.

“There’s gratitude for you! And speaking of gratitude reminds me to
mention that you may thank Hannah for saving your wedding cake from
destruction. I saw it going into your house as I came by, and if she
hadn’t defended it manfully I’d have had a pick at it, for it looked
like a remarkably plummy one.”

“I wonder if you will ever grow up, Laurie,” said Meg in a matronly
tone.

“I’m doing my best, ma’am, but can’t get much higher, I’m afraid, as
six feet is about all men can do in these degenerate days,” responded
the young gentleman, whose head was about level with the little
chandelier.

“I suppose it would be profanation to eat anything in this
spick-and-span bower, so as I’m tremendously hungry, I propose an
adjournment,” he added presently.

“Mother and I are going to wait for John. There are some last things
to settle,” said Meg, bustling away.

“Beth and I are going over to Kitty Bryant’s to get more flowers for
tomorrow,” added Amy, tying a picturesque hat over her picturesque
curls, and enjoying the effect as much as anybody.

“Come, Jo, don’t desert a fellow. I’m in such a state of exhaustion I
can’t get home without help. Don’t take off your apron, whatever you
do, it’s peculiarly becoming,” said Laurie, as Jo bestowed his especial
aversion in her capacious pocket and offered her arm to support his
feeble steps.

“Now, Teddy, I want to talk seriously to you about tomorrow,” began Jo,
as they strolled away together. “You must promise to behave well, and
not cut up any pranks, and spoil our plans.”

“Not a prank.”

“And don’t say funny things when we ought to be sober.”

“I never do. You are the one for that.”

“And I implore you not to look at me during the ceremony. I shall
certainly laugh if you do.”

“You won’t see me, you’ll be crying so hard that the thick fog round
you will obscure the prospect.”

“I never cry unless for some great affliction.”

“Such as fellows going to college, hey?” cut in Laurie, with suggestive
laugh.

“Don’t be a peacock. I only moaned a trifle to keep the girls company.”

“Exactly. I say, Jo, how is Grandpa this week? Pretty amiable?”

“Very. Why, have you got into a scrape and want to know how he’ll take
it?” asked Jo rather sharply.

“Now, Jo, do you think I’d look your mother in the face and say ‘All
right’, if it wasn’t?” and Laurie stopped short, with an injured air.

“No, I don’t.”

“Then don’t go and be suspicious. I only want some money,” said
Laurie, walking on again, appeased by her hearty tone.

“You spend a great deal, Teddy.”

“Bless you, I don’t spend it, it spends itself somehow, and is gone
before I know it.”

“You are so generous and kind-hearted that you let people borrow, and
can’t say ‘No’ to anyone. We heard about Henshaw and all you did for
him. If you always spent money in that way, no one would blame you,”
said Jo warmly.

“Oh, he made a mountain out of a molehill. You wouldn’t have me let
that fine fellow work himself to death just for want of a little help,
when he is worth a dozen of us lazy chaps, would you?”

“Of course not, but I don’t see the use of your having seventeen
waistcoats, endless neckties, and a new hat every time you come home. I
thought you’d got over the dandy period, but every now and then it
breaks out in a new spot. Just now it’s the fashion to be hideous, to
make your head look like a scrubbing brush, wear a strait jacket,
orange gloves, and clumping square-toed boots. If it was cheap
ugliness, I’d say nothing, but it costs as much as the other, and I
don’t get any satisfaction out of it.”

Laurie threw back his head, and laughed so heartily at this attack,
that the felt hat fell off, and Jo walked on it, which insult only
afforded him an opportunity for expatiating on the advantages of a
rough-and-ready costume, as he folded up the maltreated hat, and
stuffed it into his pocket.

“Don’t lecture any more, there’s a good soul! I have enough all
through the week, and like to enjoy myself when I come home. I’ll get
myself up regardless of expense tomorrow and be a satisfaction to my
friends.”

“I’ll leave you in peace if you’ll only let your hair grow. I’m not
aristocratic, but I do object to being seen with a person who looks
like a young prize fighter,” observed Jo severely.

“This unassuming style promotes study, that’s why we adopt it,”
returned Laurie, who certainly could not be accused of vanity, having
voluntarily sacrificed a handsome curly crop to the demand for
quarter-inch-long stubble.

“By the way, Jo, I think that little Parker is really getting desperate
about Amy. He talks of her constantly, writes poetry, and moons about
in a most suspicious manner. He’d better nip his little passion in the
bud, hadn’t he?” added Laurie, in a confidential, elder brotherly tone,
after a minute’s silence.

“Of course he had. We don’t want any more marrying in this family for
years to come. Mercy on us, what are the children thinking of?” and Jo
looked as much scandalized as if Amy and little Parker were not yet in
their teens.

“It’s a fast age, and I don’t know what we are coming to, ma’am. You
are a mere infant, but you’ll go next, Jo, and we’ll be left
lamenting,” said Laurie, shaking his head over the degeneracy of the
times.

“Don’t be alarmed. I’m not one of the agreeable sort. Nobody will
want me, and it’s a mercy, for there should always be one old maid in a
family.”

“You won’t give anyone a chance,” said Laurie, with a sidelong glance
and a little more color than before in his sunburned face. “You won’t
show the soft side of your character, and if a fellow gets a peep at it
by accident and can’t help showing that he likes it, you treat him as
Mrs. Gummidge did her sweetheart, throw cold water over him, and get so
thorny no one dares touch or look at you.”

“I don’t like that sort of thing. I’m too busy to be worried with
nonsense, and I think it’s dreadful to break up families so. Now don’t
say any more about it. Meg’s wedding has turned all our heads, and we
talk of nothing but lovers and such absurdities. I don’t wish to get
cross, so let’s change the subject;” and Jo looked quite ready to
fling cold water on the slightest provocation.

Whatever his feelings might have been, Laurie found a vent for them in
a long low whistle and the fearful prediction as they parted at the
gate, “Mark my words, Jo, you’ll go next.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

THE FIRST WEDDING

The June roses over the porch were awake bright and early on that
morning, rejoicing with all their hearts in the cloudless sunshine,
like friendly little neighbors, as they were. Quite flushed with
excitement were their ruddy faces, as they swung in the wind,
whispering to one another what they had seen, for some peeped in at the
dining room windows where the feast was spread, some climbed up to nod
and smile at the sisters as they dressed the bride, others waved a
welcome to those who came and went on various errands in garden, porch,
and hall, and all, from the rosiest full-blown flower to the palest
baby bud, offered their tribute of beauty and fragrance to the gentle
mistress who had loved and tended them so long.

Meg looked very like a rose herself, for all that was best and sweetest
in heart and soul seemed to bloom into her face that day, making it
fair and tender, with a charm more beautiful than beauty. Neither silk,
lace, nor orange flowers would she have. “I don’t want a fashionable
wedding, but only those about me whom I love, and to them I wish to
look and be my familiar self.”

So she made her wedding gown herself, sewing into it the tender hopes
and innocent romances of a girlish heart. Her sisters braided up her
pretty hair, and the only ornaments she wore were the lilies of the
valley, which ‘her John’ liked best of all the flowers that grew.

“You do look just like our own dear Meg, only so very sweet and lovely
that I should hug you if it wouldn’t crumple your dress,” cried Amy,
surveying her with delight when all was done.

“Then I am satisfied. But please hug and kiss me, everyone, and don’t
mind my dress. I want a great many crumples of this sort put into it
today,” and Meg opened her arms to her sisters, who clung about her
with April faces for a minute, feeling that the new love had not
changed the old.

“Now I’m going to tie John’s cravat for him, and then to stay a few
minutes with Father quietly in the study,” and Meg ran down to perform
these little ceremonies, and then to follow her mother wherever she
went, conscious that in spite of the smiles on the motherly face, there
was a secret sorrow hid in the motherly heart at the flight of the
first bird from the nest.

As the younger girls stand together, giving the last touches to their
simple toilet, it may be a good time to tell of a few changes which
three years have wrought in their appearance, for all are looking their
best just now.

Jo’s angles are much softened, she has learned to carry herself with
ease, if not grace. The curly crop has lengthened into a thick coil,
more becoming to the small head atop of the tall figure. There is a
fresh collar in her brown cheeks, a soft shine in her eyes, and only
gentle words fall from her sharp tongue today.

Beth has grown slender, pale, and more quiet than ever. The beautiful,
kind eyes are larger, and in them lies an expression that saddens one,
although it is not sad itself. It is the shadow of pain which touches
the young face with such pathetic patience, but Beth seldom complains
and always speaks hopefully of ‘being better soon’.

Amy is with truth considered ‘the flower of the family’, for at sixteen
she has the air and bearing of a full-grown woman, not beautiful, but
possessed of that indescribable charm called grace. One saw it in the
lines of her figure, the make and motion of her hands, the flow of her
dress, the droop of her hair, unconscious yet harmonious, and as
attractive to many as beauty itself. Amy’s nose still afflicted her,
for it never would grow Grecian, so did her mouth, being too wide, and
having a decided chin. These offending features gave character to her
whole face, but she never could see it, and consoled herself with her
wonderfully fair complexion, keen blue eyes, and curls more golden and
abundant than ever.

All three wore suits of thin silver gray (their best gowns for the
summer), with blush roses in hair and bosom, and all three looked just
what they were, fresh-faced, happy-hearted girls, pausing a moment in
their busy lives to read with wistful eyes the sweetest chapter in the
romance of womanhood.

There were to be no ceremonious performances, everything was to be as
natural and homelike as possible, so when Aunt March arrived, she was
scandalized to see the bride come running to welcome and lead her in,
to find the bridegroom fastening up a garland that had fallen down, and
to catch a glimpse of the paternal minister marching upstairs with a
grave countenance and a wine bottle under each arm.

“Upon my word, here’s a state of things!” cried the old lady, taking
the seat of honor prepared for her, and settling the folds of her
lavender moire with a great rustle. “You oughtn’t to be seen till the
last minute, child.”

“I’m not a show, Aunty, and no one is coming to stare at me, to
criticize my dress, or count the cost of my luncheon. I’m too happy to
care what anyone says or thinks, and I’m going to have my little
wedding just as I like it. John, dear, here’s your hammer.” And away
went Meg to help ‘that man’ in his highly improper employment.

Mr. Brooke didn’t even say, “Thank you,” but as he stooped for the
unromantic tool, he kissed his little bride behind the folding door,
with a look that made Aunt March whisk out her pocket handkerchief with
a sudden dew in her sharp old eyes.

A crash, a cry, and a laugh from Laurie, accompanied by the indecorous
exclamation, “Jupiter Ammon! Jo’s upset the cake again!” caused a
momentary flurry, which was hardly over when a flock of cousins
arrived, and ‘the party came in’, as Beth used to say when a child.

“Don’t let that young giant come near me, he worries me worse than
mosquitoes,” whispered the old lady to Amy, as the rooms filled and
Laurie’s black head towered above the rest.

“He has promised to be very good today, and he can be perfectly elegant
if he likes,” returned Amy, and gliding away to warn Hercules to beware
of the dragon, which warning caused him to haunt the old lady with a
devotion that nearly distracted her.

There was no bridal procession, but a sudden silence fell upon the room
as Mr. March and the young couple took their places under the green
arch. Mother and sisters gathered close, as if loath to give Meg up.
The fatherly voice broke more than once, which only seemed to make the
service more beautiful and solemn. The bridegroom’s hand trembled
visibly, and no one heard his replies. But Meg looked straight up in
her husband’s eyes, and said, “I will!” with such tender trust in her
own face and voice that her mother’s heart rejoiced and Aunt March
sniffed audibly.

Jo did not cry, though she was very near it once, and was only saved
from a demonstration by the consciousness that Laurie was staring
fixedly at her, with a comical mixture of merriment and emotion in his
wicked black eyes. Beth kept her face hidden on her mother’s shoulder,
but Amy stood like a graceful statue, with a most becoming ray of
sunshine touching her white forehead and the flower in her hair.

It wasn’t at all the thing, I’m afraid, but the minute she was fairly
married, Meg cried, “The first kiss for Marmee!” and turning, gave it
with her heart on her lips. During the next fifteen minutes she looked
more like a rose than ever, for everyone availed themselves of their
privileges to the fullest extent, from Mr. Laurence to old Hannah, who,
adorned with a headdress fearfully and wonderfully made, fell upon her
in the hall, crying with a sob and a chuckle, “Bless you, deary, a
hundred times! The cake ain’t hurt a mite, and everything looks
lovely.”

Everybody cleared up after that, and said something brilliant, or tried
to, which did just as well, for laughter is ready when hearts are
light. There was no display of gifts, for they were already in the
little house, nor was there an elaborate breakfast, but a plentiful
lunch of cake and fruit, dressed with flowers. Mr. Laurence and Aunt
March shrugged and smiled at one another when water, lemonade, and
coffee were found to be to only sorts of nectar which the three Hebes
carried round. No one said anything, till Laurie, who insisted on
serving the bride, appeared before her, with a loaded salver in his
hand and a puzzled expression on his face.

“Has Jo smashed all the bottles by accident?” he whispered, “or am I
merely laboring under a delusion that I saw some lying about loose this
morning?”

“No, your grandfather kindly offered us his best, and Aunt March
actually sent some, but Father put away a little for Beth, and
dispatched the rest to the Soldier’s Home. You know he thinks that
wine should be used only in illness, and Mother says that neither she
nor her daughters will ever offer it to any young man under her roof.”

Meg spoke seriously and expected to see Laurie frown or laugh, but he
did neither, for after a quick look at her, he said, in his impetuous
way, “I like that! For I’ve seen enough harm done to wish other women
would think as you do.”

“You are not made wise by experience, I hope?” and there was an anxious
accent in Meg’s voice.

“No. I give you my word for it. Don’t think too well of me, either,
this is not one of my temptations. Being brought up where wine is as
common as water and almost as harmless, I don’t care for it, but when a
pretty girl offers it, one doesn’t like to refuse, you see.”

“But you will, for the sake of others, if not for your own. Come,
Laurie, promise, and give me one more reason to call this the happiest
day of my life.”

A demand so sudden and so serious made the young man hesitate a moment,
for ridicule is often harder to bear than self-denial. Meg knew that if
he gave the promise he would keep it at all costs, and feeling her
power, used it as a woman may for her friend’s good. She did not speak,
but she looked up at him with a face made very eloquent by happiness,
and a smile which said, “No one can refuse me anything today.”

Laurie certainly could not, and with an answering smile, he gave her
his hand, saying heartily, “I promise, Mrs. Brooke!”

“I thank you, very, very much.”

“And I drink ‘long life to your resolution’, Teddy,” cried Jo,
baptizing him with a splash of lemonade, as she waved her glass and
beamed approvingly upon him.

So the toast was drunk, the pledge made and loyally kept in spite of
many temptations, for with instinctive wisdom, the girls seized a happy
moment to do their friend a service, for which he thanked them all his
life.

After lunch, people strolled about, by twos and threes, through the
house and garden, enjoying the sunshine without and within. Meg and
John happened to be standing together in the middle of the grass plot,
when Laurie was seized with an inspiration which put the finishing
touch to this unfashionable wedding.

“All the married people take hands and dance round the new-made husband
and wife, as the Germans do, while we bachelors and spinsters prance in
couples outside!” cried Laurie, promenading down the path with Amy,
with such infectious spirit and skill that everyone else followed their
example without a murmur. Mr. and Mrs. March, Aunt and Uncle Carrol
began it, others rapidly joined in, even Sallie Moffat, after a
moment’s hesitation, threw her train over her arm and whisked Ned into
the ring. But the crowning joke was Mr. Laurence and Aunt March, for
when the stately old gentleman chasseed solemnly up to the old lady,
she just tucked her cane under her arm, and hopped briskly away to join
hands with the rest and dance about the bridal pair, while the young
folks pervaded the garden like butterflies on a midsummer day.

Want of breath brought the impromptu ball to a close, and then people
began to go.

“I wish you well, my dear, I heartily wish you well, but I think you’ll
be sorry for it,” said Aunt March to Meg, adding to the bridegroom, as
he led her to the carriage, “You’ve got a treasure, young man, see that
you deserve it.”

“That is the prettiest wedding I’ve been to for an age, Ned, and I
don’t see why, for there wasn’t a bit of style about it,” observed Mrs.
Moffat to her husband, as they drove away.

“Laurie, my lad, if you ever want to indulge in this sort of thing, get
one of those little girls to help you, and I shall be perfectly
satisfied,” said Mr. Laurence, settling himself in his easy chair to
rest after the excitement of the morning.

“I’ll do my best to gratify you, Sir,” was Laurie’s unusually dutiful
reply, as he carefully unpinned the posy Jo had put in his buttonhole.

The little house was not far away, and the only bridal journey Meg had
was the quiet walk with John from the old home to the new. When she
came down, looking like a pretty Quakeress in her dove-colored suit and
straw bonnet tied with white, they all gathered about her to say
‘good-by’, as tenderly as if she had been going to make the grand tour.

“Don’t feel that I am separated from you, Marmee dear, or that I love
you any the less for loving John so much,” she said, clinging to her
mother, with full eyes for a moment. “I shall come every day, Father,
and expect to keep my old place in all your hearts, though I am
married. Beth is going to be with me a great deal, and the other girls
will drop in now and then to laugh at my housekeeping struggles. Thank
you all for my happy wedding day. 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.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

ARTISTIC ATTEMPTS

It takes people a long time to learn the difference between talent and
genius, especially ambitious young men and women. Amy was learning
this distinction through much tribulation, for mistaking enthusiasm for
inspiration, she attempted every branch of art with youthful audacity.
For a long time there was a lull in the ‘mud-pie’ business, and she
devoted herself to the finest pen-and-ink drawing, in which she showed
such taste and skill that her graceful handiwork proved both pleasant
and profitable. But over-strained eyes caused pen and ink to be laid
aside for a bold attempt at poker-sketching. While this attack lasted,
the family lived in constant fear of a conflagration, for the odor of
burning wood pervaded the house at all hours, smoke issued from attic
and shed with alarming frequency, red-hot pokers lay about
promiscuously, and Hannah never went to bed without a pail of water and
the dinner bell at her door in case of fire. Raphael’s face was found
boldly executed on the underside of the moulding board, and Bacchus on
the head of a beer barrel. A chanting cherub adorned the cover of the
sugar bucket, and attempts to portray Romeo and Juliet supplied
kindling for some time.

From fire to oil was a natural transition for burned fingers, and Amy
fell to painting with undiminished ardor. An artist friend fitted her
out with his castoff palettes, brushes, and colors, and she daubed
away, producing pastoral and marine views such as were never seen on
land or sea. Her monstrosities in the way of cattle would have taken
prizes at an agricultural fair, and the perilous pitching of her
vessels would have produced seasickness in the most nautical observer,
if the utter disregard to all known rules of shipbuilding and rigging
had not convulsed him with laughter at the first glance. Swarthy boys
and dark-eyed Madonnas, staring at you from one corner of the studio,
suggested Murillo; oily brown shadows of faces with a lurid streak in
the wrong place, meant Rembrandt; buxom ladies and dropiscal infants,
Rubens; and Turner appeared in tempests of blue thunder, orange
lightning, brown rain, and purple clouds, with a tomato-colored splash
in the middle, which might be the sun or a bouy, a sailor’s shirt or a
king’s robe, as the spectator pleased.

Charcoal portraits came next, and the entire family hung in a row,
looking as wild and crocky as if just evoked from a coalbin. Softened
into crayon sketches, they did better, for the likenesses were good,
and Amy’s hair, Jo’s nose, Meg’s mouth, and Laurie’s eyes were
pronounced ‘wonderfully fine’. A return to clay and plaster followed,
and ghostly casts of her acquaintances haunted corners of the house, or
tumbled off closet shelves onto people’s heads. Children were enticed
in as models, till their incoherent accounts of her mysterious doings
caused Miss Amy to be regarded in the light of a young ogress. Her
efforts in this line, however, were brought to an abrupt close by an
untoward accident, which quenched her ardor. Other models failing her
for a time, she undertook to cast her own pretty foot, and the family
were one day alarmed by an unearthly bumping and screaming and running
to the rescue, found the young enthusiast hopping wildly about the shed
with her foot held fast in a pan full of plaster, which had hardened
with unexpected rapidity. With much difficulty and some danger she was
dug out, for Jo was so overcome with laughter while she excavated that
her knife went too far, cut the poor foot, and left a lasting memorial
of one artistic attempt, at least.

After this Amy subsided, till a mania for sketching from nature set her
to haunting river, field, and wood, for picturesque studies, and
sighing for ruins to copy. She caught endless colds sitting on damp
grass to book ‘a delicious bit’, composed of a stone, a stump, one
mushroom, and a broken mullein stalk, or ‘a heavenly mass of clouds’,
that looked like a choice display of featherbeds when done. She
sacrificed her complexion floating on the river in the midsummer sun to
study light and shade, and got a wrinkle over her nose trying after
‘points of sight’, or whatever the squint-and-string performance is
called.

If ‘genius is eternal patience’, as Michelangelo affirms, Amy had some
claim to the divine attribute, for she persevered in spite of all
obstacles, failures, and discouragements, firmly believing that in time
she should do something worthy to be called ‘high art’.

She was learning, doing, and enjoying other things, meanwhile, for she
had resolved to be an attractive and accomplished woman, even if she
never became a great artist. Here she succeeded better, for she was
one of those happily created beings who please without effort, make
friends everywhere, and take life so gracefully and easily that less
fortunate souls are tempted to believe that such are born under a lucky
star. Everybody liked her, for among her good gifts was tact. She had
an instinctive sense of what was pleasing and proper, always said the
right thing to the right person, did just what suited the time and
place, and was so self-possessed that her sisters used to say, “If Amy
went to court without any rehearsal beforehand, she’d know exactly what
to do.”

One of her weaknesses was a desire to move in ‘our best society’,
without being quite sure what the best really was. Money, position,
fashionable accomplishments, and elegant manners were most desirable
things in her eyes, and she liked to associate with those who possessed
them, often mistaking the false for the true, and admiring what was not
admirable. Never forgetting that by birth she was a gentlewoman, she
cultivated her aristocratic tastes and feelings, so that when the
opportunity came she might be ready to take the place from which
poverty now excluded her.

“My lady,” as her friends called her, sincerely desired to be a genuine
lady, and was so at heart, but had yet to learn that money cannot buy
refinement of nature, that rank does not always confer nobility, and
that true breeding makes itself felt in spite of external drawbacks.

“I want to ask a favor of you, Mamma,” Amy said, coming in with an
important air one day.

“Well, little girl, what is it?” replied her mother, in whose eyes the
stately young lady still remained ‘the baby’.

“Our drawing class breaks up next week, and before the girls separate
for the summer, I want to ask them out here for a day. They are wild
to see the river, sketch the broken bridge, and copy some of the things
they admire in my book. They have been very kind to me in many ways,
and I am grateful, for they are all rich and I know I am poor, yet they
never made any difference.”

“Why should they?” and Mrs. March put the question with what the girls
called her ‘Maria Theresa air’.

“You know as well as I that it does make a difference with nearly
everyone, so don’t ruffle up like a dear, motherly hen, when your
chickens get pecked by smarter birds. The ugly duckling turned out a
swan, you know.” and Amy smiled without bitterness, for she possessed
a happy temper and hopeful spirit.

Mrs. March laughed, and smoothed down her maternal pride as she asked,
“Well, my swan, what is your plan?”

“I should like to ask the girls out to lunch next week, to take them
for a drive to the places they want to see, a row on the river,
perhaps, and make a little artistic fete for them.”

“That looks feasible. What do you want for lunch? Cake, sandwiches,
fruit, and coffee will be all that is necessary, I suppose?”

“Oh, dear, no! We must have cold tongue and chicken, French chocolate
and ice cream, besides. The girls are used to such things, and I want
my lunch to be proper and elegant, though I do work for my living.”

“How many young ladies are there?” asked her mother, beginning to look
sober.

“Twelve or fourteen in the class, but I dare say they won’t all come.”

“Bless me, child, you will have to charter an omnibus to carry them
about.”

“Why, Mother, how can you think of such a thing? Not more than six or
eight will probably come, so I shall hire a beach wagon and borrow Mr.
Laurence’s cherry-bounce.” (Hannah’s pronunciation of char-a-banc.)

“All of this will be expensive, Amy.”

“Not very. I’ve calculated the cost, and I’ll pay for it myself.”

“Don’t you think, dear, that as these girls are used to such things,
and the best we can do will be nothing new, that some simpler plan
would be pleasanter to them, as a change if nothing more, and much
better for us than buying or borrowing what we don’t need, and
attempting a style not in keeping with our circumstances?”

“If I can’t have it as I like, I don’t care to have it at all. I know
that I can carry it out perfectly well, if you and the girls will help
a little, and I don’t see why I can’t if I’m willing to pay for it,”
said Amy, with the decision which opposition was apt to change into
obstinacy.

Mrs. March knew that experience was an excellent teacher, and when it
was possible she left her children to learn alone the lessons which she
would gladly have made easier, if they had not objected to taking
advice as much as they did salts and senna.

“Very well, Amy, if your heart is set upon it, and you see your way
through without too great an outlay of money, time, and temper, I’ll
say no more. Talk it over with the girls, and whichever way you
decide, I’ll do my best to help you.”

“Thanks, Mother, you are always so kind.” and away went Amy to lay her
plan before her sisters.

Meg agreed at once, and promised her aid, gladly offering anything she
possessed, from her little house itself to her very best saltspoons.
But Jo frowned upon the whole project and would have nothing to do with
it at first.

“Why in the world should you spend your money, worry your family, and
turn the house upside down for a parcel of girls who don’t care a
sixpence for you? I thought you had too much pride and sense to
truckle to any mortal woman just because she wears French boots and
rides in a coupe,” said Jo, who, being called from the tragic climax of
her novel, was not in the best mood for social enterprises.

“I don’t truckle, and I hate being patronized as much as you do!”
returned Amy indignantly, for the two still jangled when such questions
arose. “The girls do care for me, and I for them, and there’s a great
deal of kindness and sense and talent among them, in spite of what you
call fashionable nonsense. You don’t care to make people like you, to
go into good society, and cultivate your manners and tastes. I do, and
I mean to make the most of every chance that comes. You can go through
the world with your elbows out and your nose in the air, and call it
independence, if you like. That’s not my way.”

When Amy had whetted her tongue and freed her mind she usually got the
best of it, for she seldom failed to have common sense on her side,
while Jo carried her love of liberty and hate of conventionalities to
such an unlimited extent that she naturally found herself worsted in an
argument. Amy’s definition of Jo’s idea of independence was such a
good hit that both burst out laughing, and the discussion took a more
amiable turn. Much against her will, Jo at length consented to
sacrifice a day to Mrs. Grundy, and help her sister through what she
regarded as ‘a nonsensical business’.

The invitations were sent, nearly all accepted, and the following
Monday was set apart for the grand event. Hannah was out of humor
because her week’s work was deranged, and prophesied that “ef the
washin’ and ironin’ warn’t done reg’lar, nothin’ would go well
anywheres”. This hitch in the mainspring of the domestic machinery had
a bad effect upon the whole concern, but Amy’s motto was ‘Nil
desperandum’, and having made up her mind what to do, she proceeded to
do it in spite of all obstacles. To begin with, Hannah’s cooking
didn’t turn out well. The chicken was tough, the tongue too salty, and
the chocolate wouldn’t froth properly. Then the cake and ice cost more
than Amy expected, so did the wagon, and various other expenses, which
seemed trifling at the outset, counted up rather alarmingly afterward.
Beth got a cold and took to her bed. Meg had an unusual number of
callers to keep her at home, and Jo was in such a divided state of mind
that her breakages, accidents, and mistakes were uncommonly numerous,
serious, and trying.

If it was not fair on Monday, the young ladies were to come on Tuesday,
an arrangement which aggravated Jo and Hannah to the last degree. On
Monday morning the weather was in that undecided state which is more
exasperating than a steady pour. It drizzled a little, shone a little,
blew a little, and didn’t make up its mind till it was too late for
anyone else to make up theirs. Amy was up at dawn, hustling people out
of their beds and through their breakfasts, that the house might be got
in order. The parlor struck her as looking uncommonly shabby, but
without stopping to sigh for what she had not, she skillfully made the
best of what she had, arranging chairs over the worn places in the
carpet, covering stains on the walls with homemade statuary, which gave
an artistic air to the room, as did the lovely vases of flowers Jo
scattered about.

The lunch looked charming, and as she surveyed it, she sincerely hoped
it would taste well, and that the borrowed glass, china, and silver
would get safely home again. The carriages were promised, Meg and
Mother were all ready to do the honors, Beth was able to help Hannah
behind the scenes, Jo had engaged to be as lively and amiable as an
absent mind, and aching head, and a very decided disapproval of
everybody and everything would allow, and as she wearily dressed, Amy
cheered herself with anticipations of the happy moment when, lunch
safely over, she should drive away with her friends for an afternoon of
artistic delights, for the ‘cherry bounce’ and the broken bridge were
her strong points.

Then came the hours of suspense, during which she vibrated from parlor
to porch, while public opinion varied like the weathercock. A smart
shower at eleven had evidently quenched the enthusiasm of the young
ladies who were to arrive at twelve, for nobody came, and at two the
exhausted family sat down in a blaze of sunshine to consume the
perishable portions of the feast, that nothing might be lost.

“No doubt about the weather today, they will certainly come, so we must
fly round and be ready for them,” said Amy, as the sun woke her next
morning. She spoke briskly, but in her secret soul she wished she had
said nothing about Tuesday, for her interest like her cake was getting
a little stale.

“I can’t get any lobsters, so you will have to do without salad today,”
said Mr. March, coming in half an hour later, with an expression of
placid despair.

“Use the chicken then, the toughness won’t matter in a salad,” advised
his wife.

“Hannah left it on the kitchen table a minute, and the kittens got at
it. I’m very sorry, Amy,” added Beth, who was still a patroness of
cats.

“Then I must have a lobster, for tongue alone won’t do,” said Amy
decidedly.

“Shall I rush into town and demand one?” asked Jo, with the magnanimity
of a martyr.

“You’d come bringing it home under your arm without any paper, just to
try me. I’ll go myself,” answered Amy, whose temper was beginning to
fail.

Shrouded in a thick veil and armed with a genteel traveling basket, she
departed, feeling that a cool drive would soothe her ruffled spirit and
fit her for the labors of the day. After some delay, the object of her
desire was procured, likewise a bottle of dressing to prevent further
loss of time at home, and off she drove again, well pleased with her
own forethought.

As the omnibus contained only one other passenger, a sleepy old lady,
Amy pocketed her veil and beguiled the tedium of the way by trying to
find out where all her money had gone to. So busy was she with her
card full of refractory figures that she did not observe a newcomer,
who entered without stopping the vehicle, till a masculine voice said,
“Good morning, Miss March,” and, looking up, she beheld one of Laurie’s
most elegant college friends. Fervently hoping that he would get out
before she did, Amy utterly ignored the basket at her feet, and
congratulating herself that she had on her new traveling dress,
returned the young man’s greeting with her usual suavity and spirit.

They got on excellently, for Amy’s chief care was soon set at rest by
learning that the gentleman would leave first, and she was chatting
away in a peculiarly lofty strain, when the old lady got out. In
stumbling to the door, she upset the basket, and–oh horror!–the
lobster, in all its vulgar size and brilliancy, was revealed to the
highborn eyes of a Tudor!

“By Jove, she’s forgotten her dinner!” cried the unconscious youth,
poking the scarlet monster into its place with his cane, and preparing
to hand out the basket after the old lady.

“Please don’t–it’s–it’s mine,” murmured Amy, with a face nearly as
red as her fish.

“Oh, really, I beg pardon. It’s an uncommonly fine one, isn’t it?”
said Tudor, with great presence of mind, and an air of sober interest
that did credit to his breeding.

Amy recovered herself in a breath, set her basket boldly on the seat,
and said, laughing, “Don’t you wish you were to have some of the salad
he’s going to make, and to see the charming young ladies who are to eat
it?”

Now that was tact, for two of the ruling foibles of the masculine mind
were touched. The lobster was instantly surrounded by a halo of
pleasing reminiscences, and curiosity about ‘the charming young ladies’
diverted his mind from the comical mishap.

“I suppose he’ll laugh and joke over it with Laurie, but I shan’t see
them, that’s a comfort,” thought Amy, as Tudor bowed and departed.

She did not mention this meeting at home (though she discovered that,
thanks to the upset, her new dress was much damaged by the rivulets of
dressing that meandered down the skirt), but went through with the
preparations which now seemed more irksome than before, and at twelve
o’clock all was ready again. Feeling that the neighbors were
interested in her movements, she wished to efface the memory of
yesterday’s failure by a grand success today, so she ordered the
‘cherry bounce’, and drove away in state to meet and escort her guests
to the banquet.

“There’s the rumble, they’re coming! I’ll go onto the porch and meet
them. It looks hospitable, and I want the poor child to have a good
time after all her trouble,” said Mrs. March, suiting the action to the
word. But after one glance, she retired, with an indescribable
expression, for looking quite lost in the big carriage, sat Amy and one
young lady.

“Run, Beth, and help Hannah clear half the things off the table. It
will be too absurd to put a luncheon for twelve before a single girl,”
cried Jo, hurrying away to the lower regions, too excited to stop even
for a laugh.

In came Amy, quite calm and delightfully cordial to the one guest who
had kept her promise. The rest of the family, being of a dramatic
turn, played their parts equally well, and Miss Eliott found them a
most hilarious set, for it was impossible to control entirely the
merriment which possessed them. The remodeled lunch being gaily
partaken of, the studio and garden visited, and art discussed with
enthusiasm, Amy ordered a buggy (alas for the elegant cherry-bounce),
and drove her friend quietly about the neighborhood till sunset, when
‘the party went out’.

As she came walking in, looking very tired but as composed as ever, she
observed that every vestige of the unfortunate fete had disappeared,
except a suspicious pucker about the corners of Jo’s mouth.

“You’ve had a 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 mold before I can dispose of it,” answered Amy, thinking with a
sigh of the generous store she had laid in for such an end as this.

“It’s a pity Laurie isn’t here to help us,” began Jo, as they sat down
to ice cream and salad for the second time in two days.

A warning look from her mother checked any further remarks, and the
whole family ate in heroic silence, till Mr. March mildly observed,
“salad was one of the favorite dishes of the ancients, and Evelyn…”
Here a general explosion of laughter cut short the ‘history of salads’,
to the great surprise of the learned gentleman.

“Bundle everything into a basket and send it to the Hummels. Germans
like messes. I’m sick of the sight of this, and there’s no reason you
should all die of a surfeit because I’ve been a fool,” cried Amy,
wiping her eyes.

“I thought I should have died when I saw you two girls rattling about
in the what-you-call-it, like two little kernels in a very big
nutshell, and Mother waiting in state to receive the throng,” sighed
Jo, quite spent with laughter.

“I’m very sorry you were disappointed, dear, but we all did our best to
satisfy you,” said Mrs. March, in a tone full of motherly regret.

“I am satisfied. I’ve done what I undertook, and it’s not my fault
that it failed. I comfort myself with that,” said Amy with a little
quiver in her voice. “I thank you all very much for helping me, and
I’ll thank you still more if you won’t allude to it for a month, at
least.”

No one did for several months, but the word ‘fete’ always produced a
general smile, and Laurie’s birthday gift to Amy was a tiny coral
lobster in the shape of a charm for her watch guard.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

LITERARY LESSONS

Fortune suddenly smiled upon Jo, and dropped a good luck penny in her
path. Not a golden penny, exactly, but I doubt if half a million would
have given more real happiness then did the little sum that came to her
in this wise.

Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her
scribbling suit, and ‘fall into a vortex’, as she expressed it, writing
away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was
finished she could find no peace. Her ‘scribbling suit’ consisted of a
black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a
cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which
she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action. This cap
was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of her family, who during these
periods kept their distance, merely popping in their heads
semi-occasionally to ask, with interest, “Does genius burn, Jo?” They
did not always venture even to ask this question, but took an
observation of the cap, and judged accordingly. If this expressive
article of dress was drawn low upon the forehead, it was a sign that
hard work was going on, in exciting moments it was pushed rakishly
askew, and when despair seized the author it was plucked wholly off,
and cast upon the floor. At such times the intruder silently withdrew,
and not until the red bow was seen gaily erect upon the gifted brow,
did anyone dare address Jo.

She did not think herself a genius by any means, but when the writing
fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon, and led a
blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather, while she sat
safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends almost as real
and dear to her as any in the flesh. Sleep forsook her eyes, meals
stood untasted, day and night were all too short to enjoy the happiness
which blessed her only at such times, and made these hours worth
living, even if they bore no other fruit. The 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 Women’s Rights and making tatting.
Beyond sat a pair of humble lovers, artlessly holding each other by the
hand, a somber spinster eating peppermints out of a paper bag, and an
old gentleman taking his preparatory nap behind a yellow bandanna. On
her right, her only neighbor was a studious looking lad absorbed in a
newspaper.

It was a pictorial sheet, and Jo examined the work of art nearest her,
idly wondering what fortuitous concatenation of circumstances needed
the melodramatic illustration of an Indian in full war costume,
tumbling over a precipice with a wolf at his throat, while two
infuriated young gentlemen, with unnaturally small feet and big eyes,
were stabbing each other close by, and a disheveled female was flying
away in the background with her mouth wide open. Pausing to turn a
page, the lad saw her looking and, with boyish good nature offered half
his paper, saying bluntly, “want to read it? That’s a first-rate story.”

Jo accepted it with a smile, for she had never outgrown her liking for
lads, and soon found herself involved in the usual labyrinth of love,
mystery, and murder, for the story belonged to that class of light
literature in which the passions have a holiday, and when the author’s
invention fails, a grand catastrophe clears the stage of one half the
dramatis personae, leaving the other half to exult over their downfall.

“Prime, isn’t it?” asked the boy, as her eye went down the last
paragraph of her portion.

“I think you and I could do as well as that if we tried,” returned Jo,
amused at his admiration of the trash.

“I should think I was a pretty lucky chap if I could. She makes a good
living out of such stories, they say.” and he pointed to the name of
Mrs. S.L.A.N.G. Northbury, under the title of the tale.

“Do you know her?” asked Jo, with sudden interest.

“No, but I read all her pieces, and I know a fellow who works in the
office where this paper is printed.”

“Do you say she makes a good living out of stories like this?” and Jo
looked more respectfully at the agitated group and thickly sprinkled
exclamation points that adorned the page.

“Guess she does! She knows just what folks like, and gets paid well
for writing it.”

Here the lecture began, but Jo heard very little of it, for while
Professor Sands was prosing away about Belzoni, Cheops, scarabei, and
hieroglyphics, she was covertly taking down the address of the paper,
and boldly resolving to try for the hundred-dollar prize offered in its
columns for a sensational story. By the time the lecture ended and the
audience awoke, she had built up a splendid fortune for herself (not
the first founded on paper), and was already deep in the concoction of
her story, being unable to decide whether the duel should come before
the elopement or after the murder.

She said nothing of her plan at home, but fell to work next day, much
to the disquiet of her mother, who always looked a little anxious when
‘genius took to burning’. Jo had never tried this style before,
contenting herself with very mild romances for The Spread Eagle. Her
experience and miscellaneous reading were of service now, for they gave
her some idea of dramatic effect, and supplied plot, language, and
costumes. Her story was as full of desperation and despair as her
limited acquaintance with those uncomfortable emotions enabled her to
make it, and having located it in Lisbon, she wound up with an
earthquake, as a striking and appropriate denouement. The manuscript
was privately dispatched, accompanied by a note, modestly saying that
if the tale didn’t get the prize, which the writer hardly dared expect,
she would be very glad to receive any sum it might be considered worth.

Six weeks is a long time to wait, and a still longer time for a girl to
keep a secret, but Jo did both, and was just beginning to give up all
hope of ever seeing her manuscript again, when a letter arrived which
almost took her breath away, for on opening it, a check for a hundred
dollars fell into her lap. For a minute she stared at it as if it had
been a snake, then she read her letter and began to cry. If the
amiable gentleman who wrote that kindly note could have known what
intense happiness he was giving a fellow creature, I think he would
devote his leisure hours, if he has any, to that amusement, for Jo
valued the letter more than the money, because it was encouraging, and
after years of effort it was so pleasant to find that she had learned
to do something, though it was only to write a sensation story.

A prouder young woman was seldom seen than she, when, having composed
herself, she electrified the family by appearing before them with the
letter in one hand, the check in the other, announcing that she had won
the prize. Of course there was a great jubilee, and when the story
came everyone read and praised it, though after her father had told her
that the language was good, the romance fresh and hearty, and the
tragedy quite thrilling, he shook his head, and said in his unworldly
way…

“You can do better than this, Jo. Aim at the highest, and never mind
the money.”

“I think the money is the best part of it. What will you do with such
a fortune?” asked Amy, regarding the magic slip of paper with a
reverential eye.

“Send Beth and Mother to the seaside for a month or two,” answered Jo
promptly.

To the seaside they went, after much discussion, and though Beth didn’t
come home as plump and rosy as could be desired, she was much better,
while Mrs. March declared she felt ten years younger. So Jo was
satisfied with the investment of her prize money, and fell to work with
a cheery spirit, bent on earning more of those delightful checks. She
did earn several that year, and began to feel herself a power in the
house, for by the magic of a pen, her ‘rubbish’ turned into comforts
for them all. The Duke’s Daughter paid the butcher’s bill, A Phantom
Hand put down a new carpet, and the Curse of the Coventrys proved the
blessing of the Marches in the way of groceries and gowns.

Wealth is certainly a most desirable thing, but poverty has its sunny
side, and one of the sweet uses of adversity is the genuine
satisfaction which comes from hearty work of head or hand, and to the
inspiration of necessity, we owe half the wise, beautiful, and useful
blessings of the world. Jo enjoyed a taste of this satisfaction, and
ceased to envy richer girls, taking great comfort in the knowledge that
she could supply her own wants, and need ask no one for a penny.

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