Infomotions, Inc.Little Women / Alcott, Louisa May, 1832-1888



Author: Alcott, Louisa May, 1832-1888
Title: Little Women
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): meg; laurie; amy; beth
Contributor(s): Gardner, Edmund Garratt, 1869-1935 [Editor]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 187,343 words (longer than most) Grade range: 9-11 (high school) Readability score: 68 (easy)
Identifier: etext514
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Title: Little Women

Author: Louisa May Alcott

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*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK LITTLE WOMEN ***






LITTLE WOMEN

by Louisa May Alcott




CHAPTER ONE

PLAYING PILGRIMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That's why I do it."

"I detest rude, unladylike girls!"

"I hate affected, niminy-piminy chits!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No, I shall!" cried Amy.

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

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

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

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

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

"Some handkerchiefs, all hemmed," said Beth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Crinkle, crinkle, 'ittle 'tar,

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



CHAPTER TWO

A MERRY CHRISTMAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Is it fairies?" asked Amy.

"Santa Claus," said Beth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER THREE

THE LAURENCE BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Shan't I disturb you?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Grandpa sent it."

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

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

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

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

"Laurie Laurence, what an odd name."

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

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

"I thrashed 'em."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We spent last winter there."

"Can you talk French?"

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

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

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

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

"Oui, mademoiselle."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Sixteen, next month."

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

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

"What do you like?"

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

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

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

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

"Because, what?"

"You won't tell?"

"Never!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'll go."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER FOUR

BURDENS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER FIVE

BEING NEIGHBORLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How do you do?  Are you sick?"

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

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

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

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

"Don't you read?"

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

"Can't somebody read to you?"

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

"Have someone come and see you then."

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

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

"Don't know any."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How did you find that out?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Not much, sir."

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

"Not quite, sir."

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

"I only said I thought so."

"But you like me in spite of it?"

"Yes, I do, sir."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Sometimes," he answered modestly.

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

"Won't you first?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Why not?"

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

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

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

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

"I will."

"Good night, Laurie!"

"Good night, Jo, good night!"

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

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

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

"Dear me, how romantic!" exclaimed Meg.

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

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

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

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

"He meant the blanc mange, I suppose."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CHAPTER SIX

BETH FINDS THE PALACE BEAUTIFUL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How kind you are, sir!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Miss March:
"Dear Madam--"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER SEVEN

AMY'S VALLEY OF HUMILIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Young ladies, attention, if you please!"

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

"Miss March, come to the desk."

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

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

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

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

"Is that all?"

"Not quite," stammered Amy.

"Bring the rest immediately."

With a despairing glance at her set, she obeyed.

"You are sure there are no more?"

"I never lie, sir."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




CHAPTER EIGHT

JO MEETS APOLLYON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Fiddlesticks!" returned Jo, slamming the door.

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

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

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

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

"Amy, you've got it!"

"No, I haven't."

"You know where it is, then!"

"No, I don't."

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

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

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

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

"Why not?"

"I burned it up."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Bring a rail.  Quick, quick!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Poor Mother!  What helped you then?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I thought I'd grieved you."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER NINE

MEG GOES TO VANITY FAIR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

"Change it," advised Jo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How old is he?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why not, Cherie?" asked Miss Belle.

"He's too old."

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

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

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

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

"About your age," Nan said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What shall you wear?" asked Sallie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why not?" in an anxious tone.

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

"I don't like fuss and feathers."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Marmee, I want to 'fess'."

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

"Shall I go away?" asked Jo discreetly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER TEN

THE P.C. AND P.O.

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

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

__________________________________________________

    "THE PICKWICK PORTFOLIO"



    MAY 20, 18---

    POET'S CORNER

    ANNIVERSARY ODE


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ________

    THE MASKED MARRIAGE
    (A Tale Of Venice)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    ___________

    THE HISTORY OF A SQUASH


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

    _____________

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

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

    _________

    A SAD ACCIDENT

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

    _________

    THE PUBLIC BEREAVEMENT

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

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

    _________

A sympathizing friend sends the following gem:


    A LAMENT
    (FOR S.  B.  PAT PAW)

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

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

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

    Another cat comes after her mice,
    A cat with a dirty face,
    But she does not hunt as our darling did,
    Nor play with her airy grace.

    Her stealthy paws tread the very hall
    Where Snowball used to play,
    But she only spits at the dogs our pet
    So gallantly drove away.

    She is useful and mild, and does her best,
    But she is not fair to see,
    And we cannot give her your place dear,
    Nor worship her as we worship thee.
    A.S.

    _________

    ADVERTISEMENTS

    MISS ORANTHY BLUGGAGE, the accomplished
    strong-minded lecturer, will deliver her
    famous lecture on "WOMAN AND HER POSITION"
    at Pickwick Hall, next Saturday Evening,
    after the usual performances.


    A WEEKLY MEETING will be held at Kitchen
    Place, to teach young ladies how to cook.
    Hannah Brown will preside, and all are
    invited to attend.

    The DUSTPAN SOCIETY will meet on Wednesday
    next, and parade in the upper story of the
    Club House.  All members to appear in uniform
    and shoulder their brooms at nine precisely.

    Mrs. BETH BOUNCER will open her new
    assortment of Doll's Millinery next week.
    The latest Paris fashions have arrived,
    and orders are respectfully solicited.

    A NEW PLAY will appear at the Barnville
    Theatre, in the course of a few weeks, which
    will surpass anything ever seen on the American stage.
    "The Greek Slave, or Constantine the Avenger," is the name
    of this thrilling drama!!!



    HINTS

    If S.P.  didn't use so much soap on his hands,
    he wouldn't always be late at breakfast.  A.S.
    is requested not to whistle in the street.  T.T
    please don't forget Amy's napkin.  N.W.  must
    not fret because his dress has not nine tucks.



    WEEKLY REPORT

    Meg--Good.
    Jo--Bad.
    Beth--Very Good.
    Amy--Middling.

__________________________________________________


As the President finished reading the paper (which I beg
leave to assure my readers is a bona fide copy of one written
by bona fide girls once upon a time), a round of applause
followed, and then Mr. Snodgrass rose to make a proposition.

"Mr. President and gentlemen," he began, assuming a
parliamentary attitude and tone, "I wish to propose the admission
of a new member--one who highly deserves the honor, would be
deeply grateful for it, and would add immensely to the spirit
of the club, the literary value of the paper, and be no end
jolly and nice.  I propose Mr. Theodore Laurence as an honorary
member of the P.  C.  Come now, do have him."

Jo's sudden change of tone made the girls laugh, but all
looked rather anxious, and no one said a word as Snodgrass
took his seat.

"We'll put it to a vote," said the President.  "All in
favor of this motion please to manifest it by saying, 'Aye'."

A loud response from Snodgrass, followed, to everybody's 
surprise, by a timid one from Beth.

"Contrary-minded say, 'No'."

Meg and Amy were contrary-minded, and Mr. Winkle rose to
say with great elegance, "We don't wish any boys, they only
joke and bounce about.  This is a ladies' club, and we wish to
be private and proper."

"I'm afraid he'll laugh at our paper, and make fun of us
afterward," observed Pickwick, pulling the little curl on her
forehead, as she always did when doubtful.

Up rose Snodgrass, very much in earnest.  "Sir, I give you
my word as a gentleman, Laurie won't do anything of the sort.  He
likes to write, and he'll give a tone to our contributions and
keep us from being sentimental, don't you see?  We can do so little
for him, and he does so much for us, I think the least we can do
is to offer him a place here, and make him welcome if he comes."

This artful allusion to benefits conferred brought Tupman to
his feet, looking as if he had quite made up his mind.

"Yes; we ought to do it, even if we are afraid.  I say he may
come, and his grandpa, too, if he likes."

This spirited burst from Beth electrified the club, and Jo
left her seat to shake hands approvingly.  "Now then, vote again.
Everybody remember it's our Laurie, and say, 'Aye!'"
cried Snodgrass excitedly.

"Aye!  Aye!  Aye!" replied three voices at once.

"Good!  Bless you!  Now, as there's nothing like 'taking time
by the fetlock', as Winkle characteristically observes, allow me
to present the new member."  And, to the dismay of the rest of the
club, Jo threw open the door of the closet, and displayed Laurie
sitting on a rag bag, flushed and twinkling with suppressed laughter.

"You rogue!  You traitor!  Jo, how could you?" cried the three
girls, as Snodgrass led her friend triumphantly forth, and producing
both a chair and a badge, installed him in a jiffy.

"The coolness of you two rascals is amazing," began Mr. Pickwick,
trying to get up an awful frown and only succeeding in producing
an amiable smile.  But the new member was equal to the occasion,
and rising, with a grateful salutation to the Chair, said
in the most engaging manner, "Mr. President and ladies--I beg pardon,
gentlemen--allow me to introduce myself as Sam Weller, the very
humble servant of the club."

"Good!  Good!" cried Jo, pounding with the handle of the old
warming pan on which she leaned.

"My faithful friend and noble patron," continued Laurie with
a wave of the hand, "who has so flatteringly presented me, is not
to be blamed for the base stratagem of tonight.  I planned it, and
she only gave in after lots of teasing."

"Come now, don't lay it all on yourself.  You know I proposed
the cupboard," broke in Snodgrass, who was enjoying the joke
amazingly.

"Never mind what she says.  I'm the wretch that did it, sir,"
said the new member, with a Welleresque nod to Mr. Pickwick.  "But
on my honor, I never will do so again, and henceforth devote myself
to the interest of this immortal club."

"Hear!  Hear!" cried Jo, clashing the lid of the warming pan
like a cymbal.

"Go on, go on!" added Winkle and Tupman, while the President
bowed benignly.

"I merely wish to say, that as a slight token of my gratitude
for the honor done me, and as a means of promoting friendly relations
between adjoining nations, I have set up a post office in the hedge
in the lower corner of the garden, a fine, spacious building with
padlocks on the doors and every convenience for the mails, also the
females, if I may be allowed the expression.  It's the old martin
house, but I've stopped up the door and made the roof open, so it
will hold all sorts of things, and save our valuable time.  Letters,
manuscripts, books, and bundles can be passed in there, and as each
nation has a key, it will be uncommonly nice, I fancy.  Allow me to
present the club key, and with many thanks for your favor, take my
seat."

Great applause as Mr. Weller deposited a little key on the
table and subsided, the warming pan clashed and waved wildly, and
it was some time before order could be restored.  A long discussion
followed, and everyone came out surprising, for everyone did her
best.  So it was an unusually lively meeting, and did not adjourn
till a late hour, when it broke up with three shrill cheers for the
new member.

No one ever regretted the admittance of Sam Weller, for
a more devoted, well-behaved, and jovial member no club could have.
He certainly did add 'spirit' to the meetings, and 'a tone' to the
paper, for his orations convulsed his hearers and his contributions
were excellent, being patriotic, classical, comical, or dramatic,
but never sentimental.  Jo regarded them as worthy of Bacon, Milton,
or Shakespeare, and remodeled her own works with good effect, she
thought.

The P.  O.  was a capital little institution, and flourished
wonderfully, for nearly as many queer things passed through it as
through the real post office.  Tragedies and cravats, poetry and
pickles, garden seeds and long letters, music and gingerbread,
rubbers, invitations, scoldings, and puppies.  The old gentleman
liked the fun, and amused himself by sending odd bundles,
mysterious messages, and funny telegrams, and his gardener, who was
smitten with Hannah's charms, actually sent a love letter to Jo's
care.  How they laughed when the secret came out, never dreaming
how many love letters that little post office would hold in the
years to come.



CHAPTER ELEVEN

EXPERIMENTS

"The first of June!  The Kings are off to the seashore tomorrow,
and I'm free.  Three months' vacation--how I shall enjoy it!"
exclaimed Meg, coming home one warm day to find Jo laid
upon the sofa in an unusual state of exhaustion, while Beth took
off her dusty boots, and Amy made lemonade for the refreshment
of the whole party.

"Aunt March went today, for which, oh, be joyful!" said Jo.
"I was mortally afraid she'd ask me to go with her.  If she
had, I should have felt as if I ought to do it, but Plumfield is
about as gay as a churchyard, you know, and I'd rather be excused.
We had a flurry getting the old lady off, and I had a fright every
time she spoke to me, for I was in such a hurry to be through that
I was uncommonly helpful and sweet, and feared she'd find it
impossible to part from me.  I quaked till she was fairly in the
carriage, and had a final fright, for as it drove of, she popped
out her head, saying, 'Josyphine, won't you--?' I didn't hear any
more, for I basely turned and fled.  I did actually run, and
whisked round the corner where I felt safe."

"Poor old Jo!  She came in looking as if bears were after her,"
said Beth, as she cuddled her sister's feet with a motherly air.

"Aunt March is a regular samphire, is she not?" observed Amy,
tasting her mixture critically.

"She means vampire, not seaweed, but it doesn't matter.  It's
too warm to be particular about one's parts of speech," murmured
Jo.

"What shall you do all your vacation?" asked Amy, changing
the subject with tact.

"I shall lie abed late, and do nothing," replied Meg, from
the depths of the rocking chair.  "I've been routed up early all
winter and had to spend my days working for other people, so now
I'm going to rest and revel to my heart's content."

"No," said Jo, "that dozy way wouldn't suit me.  I've laid
in a heap of books, and I'm going to improve my shining hours
reading on my perch in the old apple tree, when I'm not having
l----"

"Don't say 'larks!'" implored Amy, as a return snub for the
'samphire' correction.

"I'll say 'nightingales' then, with Laurie.  That's proper
and appropriate, since he's a warbler."

"Don't let us do any lessons, Beth, for a while, but play
all the time and rest, as the girls mean to," proposed Amy.

"Well, I will, if Mother doesn't mind.  I want to learn some
new songs, and my children need fitting up for the summer.  They
are dreadfully out of order and really suffering for clothes."

"May we, Mother?" asked Meg, turning to Mrs. March, who
sat sewing in what they called 'Marmee's corner'.

"You may try your experiment for a week and see how you like
it.  I think by Saturday night you will find that all play and no
work is as bad as all work and no play."

"Oh, dear, no!  It will be delicious, I'm sure," said Meg
complacently.

"I now propose a toast, as my 'friend and pardner,
Sairy Gamp', says.  Fun forever, and no grubbing!" cried Jo, rising,
glass in hand, as the lemonade went round.

They all drank it merrily, and began the experiment by
lounging for the rest of the day.  Next morning, Meg did not
appear till ten o'clock.  Her solitary breakfast did not taste
good, and the room seemed lonely and untidy, for Jo had not
filled the vases, Beth had not dusted, and Amy's books lay
scattered about.  Nothing was neat and pleasant but 'Marmee's
corner', which looked as usual.  And there Meg sat, to 'rest and
read', which meant to yawn and imagine what pretty summer dresses
she would get with her salary.  Jo spent the morning on the river
with Laurie and the afternoon reading and crying over _The Wide, 
Wide World_, up in the apple tree.  Beth began by rummaging everything
out of the big closet where her family resided, but getting
tired before half done, she left her establishment topsy-turvy
and went to her music, rejoicing that she had no dishes to wash.
Amy arranged her bower, put on her best white frock, smoothed her
curls, and sat down to draw under the honeysuckle, hoping someone
would see and inquire who the young artist was.  As no one appeared
but an inquisitive daddy-longlegs, who examined her work with interest,
she went to walk, got caught in a shower, and came home dripping.

At teatime they compared notes, and all agreed that it had
been a delightful, though unusually long day.  Meg, who went shopping
in the afternoon and got a 'sweet blue muslin', had discovered,
after she had cut the breadths off, that it wouldn't wash, which
mishap made her slightly cross.  Jo had burned the skin off her
nose boating, and got a raging headache by reading too long.  Beth
was worried by the confusion of her closet and the difficulty of
learning three or four songs at once, and Amy deeply regretted the
damage done her frock, for Katy Brown's party was to be the next
day and now like Flora McFlimsey, she had 'nothing to wear'.  But
these were mere trifles, and they assured their mother that the
experiment was working finely.  She smiled, said nothing, and with
Hannah's help did their neglected work, keeping home pleasant and
the domestic machinery running smoothly.  It was astonishing what
a peculiar and uncomfortable state of things was produced by the
'resting and reveling' process.  The days kept getting longer and
longer, the weather was unusually variable and so were tempers; an
unsettled feeling possessed everyone, and Satan found plenty of
mischief for the idle hands to do.  As the height of luxury, Meg
put out some of her sewing, and then found time hang so heavily, that
she fell to snipping and spoiling her clothes in her attempts to
furbish them up a la Moffat.  Jo read till her eyes gave out and
she was sick of books, got so fidgety that even good-natured Laurie
had a quarrel with her, and so reduced in spirits that she desperately
wished she had gone with Aunt March.  Beth got on pretty well,
for she was constantly forgetting that it was to be all play and
no work, and fell back into her old ways now and then.  But something
in the air affected her, and more than once her tranquility was much
disturbed, so much so that on one occasion she actually shook poor
dear Joanna and told her she was 'a fright'.  Amy fared worst of all,
for her resources were small, and when her sisters left her to amuse
herself, she soon found that accomplished and important little self
a great burden.  She didn't like dolls, fairy tales were childish,
and one couldn't draw all the time.  Tea parties didn't amount to
much, neither did picnics, unless very well conducted.  "If one could
have a fine house, full of nice girls, or go traveling, the summer
would be delightful, but to stay at home with three selfish sisters
and a grown-up boy was enough to try the patience of a Boaz,"
complained Miss Malaprop, after several days devoted to pleasure,
fretting, and ennui.

No one would own that they were tired of the experiment, but
by Friday night each acknowledged to herself that she was glad the
week was nearly done.  Hoping to impress the lesson more deeply,
Mrs. March, who had a good deal of humor, resolved to finish off
the trial in an appropriate manner, so she gave Hannah a holiday and
let the girls enjoy the full effect of the play system.

When they got up on Saturday morning, there was no fire in
the kitchen, no breakfast in the dining room, and no mother
anywhere to be seen.

"Mercy on us!  What has happened?" cried Jo, staring about
her in dismay.

Meg ran upstairs and soon came back again, looking relieved
but rather bewildered, and a little ashamed.

"Mother isn't sick, only very tired, and she says she is
going to stay quietly in her room all day and let us do the best
we can.  It's a very queer thing for her to do, she doesn't act
a bit like herself.  But she says it has been a hard week for
her, so we mustn't grumble but take care of ourselves."

"That's easy enough, and I like the idea, I'm aching for
something to do, that is, some new amusement, you know," added
Jo quickly.

In fact it was an immense relief to them all to have a little
work, and they took hold with a will, but soon realized the truth
of Hannah's saying, "Housekeeping ain't no joke."  There was plenty
of food in the larder, and while Beth and Amy set the table, Meg and
Jo got breakfast, wondering as they did why servants ever talked
about hard work.

"I shall take some up to Mother, though she said we were not
to think of her, for she'd take care of herself," said Meg, who
presided and felt quite matronly behind the teapot.

So a tray was fitted out before anyone began, and taken up
with the cook's compliments.  The boiled tea was very bitter, the
omelet scorched, and the biscuits speckled with saleratus, but
Mrs. March received her repast with thanks and laughed heartily
over it after Jo was gone.

"Poor little souls, they will have a hard time, I'm afraid,
but they won't suffer, and it will do them good," she said,
producing the more palatable viands with which she had provided
herself, and disposing of the bad breakfast, so that their
feelings might not be hurt, a motherly little deception for which
they were grateful.

Many were the complaints below, and great the chagrin of
the head cook at her failures.  "Never mind, I'll get the dinner
and be servant, you be mistress, keep your hands nice, see
company, and give orders," said Jo, who knew still less than Meg
about culinary affairs.

This obliging offer was gladly accepted, and Margaret retired
to the parlor, which she hastily put in order by whisking the
litter under the sofa and shutting the blinds to save the trouble
of dusting.  Jo, with perfect faith in her own powers and a
friendly desire to make up the quarrel, immediately put a note in
the office, inviting Laurie to dinner.

"You'd better see what you have got before you think of having
company," said Meg, when informed of the hospitable but rash act.

"Oh, there's corned beef and plenty of poatoes, and I shall
get some asparagus and a lobster, 'for a relish', as Hannah says.
We'll have lettuce and make a salad.  I don't know how, but the
book tells.  I'll have blanc mange and strawberries for dessert,
and coffee too, if you want to be elegant."

"Don't try too many messes, Jo, for you can't make anything
but gingerbread and molasses candy fit to eat.  I wash my hands
of the dinner party, and since you have asked Laurie on your own
responsibility, you may just take care of him."

"I don't want you to do anything but be civil to him and help
to the pudding.  You'll give me your advice if I get in a muddle,
won't you?" asked Jo, rather hurt.

"Yes, but I don't know much, except about bread and a few
trifles.  You had better ask Mother's leave before you order
anything," returned Meg prudently.

"Of course I shall.  I'm not a fool."  And Jo went off in a
huff at the doubts expressed of her powers.

"Get what you like, and don't disturb me.  I'm going out to
dinner and can't worry about things at home," said Mrs. March, when
Jo spoke to her.  "I never enjoyed housekeeping, and I'm going to
take a vacation today, and read, write, go visiting, and amuse myself."

The unusual spectacle of her busy mother rocking comfortably
and reading early in the morning made Jo feel as if some unnatural
phenomenon had occurred, for an eclipse, an earthquake, or a
volcanic eruption would hardly have seemed stranger.

"Everything is out of sorts, somehow," she said to herself,
going downstairs.  "There's Beth crying, that's a sure sign that
something is wrong in this family.  If Amy is bothering, I'll
shake her."

Feeling very much out of sorts herself, Jo hurried into the
parlor to find Beth sobbing over Pip, the canary, who lay dead in
the cage with his little claws pathetically extended, as if
imploring the food for want of which he had died.

"It's all my fault, I forgot him, there isn't a seed or a
drop left.  Oh, Pip!  Oh, Pip!  How could I be so cruel to you?"
cried Beth, taking the poor thing in her hands and trying to
restore him.

Jo peeped into his half-open eye, felt his little heart, and
finding him stiff and cold, shook her head, and offered her domino
box for a coffin.

"Put him in the oven, and maybe he will get warm and revive,"
said Amy hopefully.

"He's been starved, and he shan't be baked now he's dead.  I'll
make him a shroud, and he shall be buried in the garden, and I'll
never have another bird, never, my Pip! for I am too bad to own
one," murmured Beth, sitting on the floor with her pet folded in
her hands.

"The funeral shall be this afternoon, and we will all go.  Now,
don't cry, Bethy.  It's a pity, but nothing goes right this week,
and Pip has had the worst of the experiment.  Make the shroud, and
lay him in my box, and after the dinner party, we'll have a nice
little funeral," said Jo, beginning to feel as if she had undertaken
a good deal.

Leaving the others to console Beth, she departed to the kitchen,
which was in a most discouraging state of confusion.  Putting on a
big apron, she fell to work and got the dishes piled up ready for
washing, when she discovered that the fire was out.

"Here's a sweet prospect!" muttered Jo, slamming the stove
door open, and poking vigorously among the cinders.

Having rekindled the fire, she thought she would go to market
while the water heated.  The walk revived her spirits, and flattering
herself that she had made good bargains, she trudged home again, after
buying a very young lobster, some very old asparagus, and two boxes
of acid strawberries.  By the time she got cleared up, the dinner
arrived and the stove was red-hot.  Hannah had left a pan of bread
to rise, Meg had worked it up early, set it on the hearth for a
second rising, and forgotten it.  Meg was entertaining Sallie
Gardiner in the parlor, when the door flew open and a floury, crocky,
flushed, and disheveled figure appeared, demanding tartly . . .

"I say, isn't bread 'riz' enough when it runs over the pans?"

Sallie began to laugh, but Meg nodded and lifted her eyebrows
as high as they would go, which caused the apparition to vanish and
put the sour bread into the oven without further delay.  Mrs. March
went out, after peeping here and there to see how matters went, also
saying a word of comfort to Beth, who sat making a winding sheet,
while the dear departed lay in state in the domino box.  A strange
sense of helplessness fell upon the girls as the gray bonnet
vanished round the corner, and despair seized them when a few minutes
later Miss Crocker appeared, and said she'd come to dinner.  Now
this lady was a thin, yellow spinster, with a sharp nose and
inquisitive eyes, who saw everything and gossiped about all she saw.
They disliked her, but had been taught to be kind to her, simply
because she was old and poor and had few friends.  So Meg gave her
the easy chair and tried to entertain her, while she asked questions,
critsized everything, and told stories of the people whom she knew.

Language cannot describe the anxieties, experiences, and exertions
which Jo underwent that morning, and the dinner she served up became a
standing joke.  Fearing to ask any more advice, she did her best alone,
and discovered that something more than energy and good will is
necessary to make a cook.  She boiled the asparagus for an hour and was
grieved to find the heads cooked off and the stalks harder than ever.
The bread burned black; for the salad dressing so aggravated her that
she could not make it fit to eat.  The lobster was a scarlet mystery to
her, but she hammered and poked till it was unshelled and its meager
proportions concealed in a grove of lettuce leaves.  The potatoes had
to be hurried, not to keep the asparagus waiting, and were not done
at the last.  The blanc mange was lumpy, and the strawberries not as
ripe as they looked, having been skilfully 'deaconed'.

"Well, they can eat beef and bread and butter, if they are
hungry, only it's mortifying to have to spend your whole morning for
nothing," thought Jo, as she rang the bell half an hour later than
usual, and stood, hot, tired, and dispirited, surveying the feast
spread before Laurie, accustomed to all sorts of elegance, and Miss
Crocker, whose tattling tongue would report them far and wide.

Poor Jo would gladly have gone under the table, as one thing
after another was tasted and left, while Amy giggled, Meg looked
distressed, Miss Crocker pursed her lips, and Laurie talked and
laughed with all his might to give a cheerful tone to the festive
scene.  Jo's one strong point was the fruit, for she had sugared it
well, and had a pitcher of rich cream to eat with it.  Her hot cheeks
cooled a trifle, and she drew a long breath as the pretty glass
plates went round, and everyone looked graciously at the little rosy
islands floating in a sea of cream.  Miss Crocker tasted first, made
a wry face, and drank some water hastily.  Jo, who refused, thinking
there might not be enough, for they dwindled sadly after the picking
over, glanced at Laurie, but he was eating away manfully, though there
was a slight pucker about his mouth and he kept his eye fixed on his
plate.  Amy, who was fond of delicate fare, took a heaping spoonful,
choked, hid her face in her napkin, and left the table precipitately.

"Oh, what is it?" exclaimed Jo, trembling.

"Salt instead of sugar, and the cream is sour," replied Meg
with a tragic gesture.

Jo uttered a groan and fell back in her chair, remembering that
she had given a last hasty powdering to the berries out of one of
the two boxes on the kitchen table, and had neglected to put the
milk in the refrigerator.  She turned scarlet and was on the verge
of crying, when she met Laurie's eyes, which would look merry in
spite of his heroic efforts.  The comical side of the affair suddenly
struck her, and she laughed till the tears ran down her cheeks.  So
did everyone else, even 'Croaker' as the girls called the old lady,
and the unfortunate dinner ended gaily, with bread and butter, olives
and fun.

"I haven't strength of mind enough to clear up now, so we will
sober ourselves with a funeral," said Jo, as they rose, and Miss
Crocker made ready to go, being eager to tell the new story at
another friend's dinner table.

They did sober themselves for Beth's sake.  Laurie dug a grave
under the ferns in the grove, little Pip was laid in, with many tears
by his tender-hearted mistress, and covered with moss, while a wreath
of violets and chickweed was hung on the stone which bore his epitaph,
composed by Jo while she struggled with the dinner.

    Here lies Pip March,
    Who died the 7th of June;
    Loved and lamented sore,
    And not forgotten soon.

At the conclusion of the ceremonies, Beth retired to her room,
overcome with emotion and lobster, but there was no place of repose,
for the beds were not made, and she found her grief much assuaged
by beating up the pillows and putting things in order.  Meg helped
Jo clear away the remains of the feast, which took half the afternoon
and left them so tired that they agreed to be contented with tea and
toast for supper.

Laurie took Amy to drive, which was a deed of charity, for the
sour cream seemed to have had a bad effect upon her temper.  Mrs.
March came home to find the three older girls hard at work in the
middle of the afternoon, and a glance at the closet gave her an idea
of the success of one part of the experiment.

Before the housewives could rest, several people called, and
there was a scramble to get ready to see them.  Then tea must be got,
errands done, and one or two necessary bits of sewing neglected until
the last minute.  As twilight fell, dewy and still, one by one they
gathered on the porch where the June roses were budding beautifully,
and each groaned or sighed as she sat down, as if tired or troubled.

"What a dreadful day this has been!" began Jo, usually the first
to speak.

"It has seemed shorter than usual, but so uncomfortable," said Meg.

"Not a bit like home," added Amy.

"It can't seem so without Marmee and little Pip," sighed Beth,
glancing with full eyes at the empty cage above her head.

"Here's Mother, dear, and you shall have another bird tomorrow,
if you want it."

As she spoke, Mrs. March came and took her place among them,
looking as if her holiday had not been much pleasanter than theirs.

"Are you satisfied with your experiment, girls, or do you want
another week of it?" she asked, as Beth nestled up to her and the
rest turned toward her with brightening faces, as flowers turn
toward the sun.

"I don't!" cried Jo decidedly.

"Nor I," echoed the others.

"You think then, that it is better to have a few duties and
live a little for others, do you?"

"Lounging and larking doesn't pay," observed Jo, shaking her head.
"I'm tired of it and mean to go to work at something right off."

"Suppose you learn plain cooking.  That's a useful accomplishment,
which no woman should be without," said Mrs. March, laughing
inaudibly at the recollection of Jo's dinner party, for she had
met Miss Crocker and heard her account of it.

"Mother, did you go away and let everything be, just to see how
we'd get on?" cried Meg, who had had suspicions all day.

"Yes, I wanted you to see how the comfort of all depends on
each doing her share faithfully.  While Hannah and I did your work,
you got on pretty well, though I don't think you were very happy
or amiable.  So I thought, as a little lesson, I would show you
what happens when everyone thinks only of herself.  Don't you feel
that it is pleasanter to help one another, to have daily duties
which make leisure sweet when it comes, and to bear and forbear,
that home may be comfortable and lovely to us all?"

"We do, Mother, we do!" cried the girls.

"Then let me advise you to take up your little burdens again,
for though they seem heavy sometimes, they are good for us, and
lighten as we learn to carry them.  Work is wholesome, and there
is plenty for everyone.  It keeps us from ennui and mischief, is
good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power and
independence better than money or fashion."

"We'll work like bees, and love it too, see if we don't,"
said Jo.  "I'll learn plain cooking for my holiday task, and
the next dinner party I have shall be a success."

"I'll make the set of shirts for father, instead of letting
you do it, Marmee.  I can and I will, though I'm not fond of sewing.
That will be better than fussing over my own things, which are plenty
nice enough as they are." said Meg.

"I'll do my lessons every day, and not spend so much time with
my music and dolls.  I am a stupid thing, and ought to be studying,
not playing," was Beth's resolution, while Amy followed their example
by heroically declaring, "I shall learn to make buttonholes, and
attend to my parts of speech."

"Very good!  Then I am quite satisfied with the experiment, and
fancy that we shall not have to repeat it, only don't go to the other
extreme and delve like slaves.  Have regular hours for work and play,
make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand
the worth of time by employing it well.  Then youth will be delightful,
old age will bring few regrets, and life become a beautiful success,
in spite of poverty."

"We'll remember, Mother!" and they did.



CHAPTER TWELVE

CAMP LAURENCE

Beth was postmistress, for, being most at home, she could
attend to it regularly, and dearly liked the daily task of
unlocking the little door and distributing the mail.  One July
day she came in with her hands full, and went about the house
leaving letters and parcels like the penny post.

"Here's your posy, Mother!  Laurie never forgets that," she
said, putting the fresh nosegay in the vase that stood in 'Marmee's
corner', and was kept supplied by the affectionate boy.

"Miss Meg March, one letter and a glove," continued Beth,
delivering the articles to her sister, who sat near her mother,
stitching wristbands.

"Why, I left a pair over there, and here is only one," said
Meg, looking at the gray cotton glove.  "Didn't you drop the
other in the garden?"

"No, I'm sure I didn't, for there was only one in the office."

"I hate to have odd gloves!  Never mind, the other may be
found.  My letter is only a translation of the German song I
wanted.  I think Mr. Brooke did it, for this isn't Laurie's
writing."

Mrs. March glanced at Meg, who was looking very pretty in
her gingham morning gown, with the little curls blowing about her
forehead, and very womanly, as she sat sewing at her little worktable,
full of tidy white rolls, so unconscious of the thought in her
mother's mind as she sewed and sang, while her fingers flew
and her thoughts were busied with girlish fancies as innocent
and fresh as the pansies in her belt, that Mrs. March smiled and
was satisfied.

"Two letters for Doctor Jo, a book, and a funny old hat,
which covered the whole post office and stuck outside," said
Beth, laughing as she went into the study where Jo sat writing.

"What a sly fellow Laurie is!  I said I wished bigger hats
were the fashion, because I burn my face every hot day.  He said,
'Why mind the fashion?  Wear a big hat, and be comfortable!' I
said I would if I had one, and he has sent me this, to try me.  I'll
wear it for fun, and show him I don't care for the fashion."  And
hanging the antique broad-brim on a bust of Plato, Jo read her
letters.

One from her mother made her cheeks glow and her eyes fill,
for it said to her . . .


My Dear:

I write a little word to tell you with how much satisfaction
I watch your efforts to control your temper.  You say nothing
about your trials, failures, or successes, and think, perhaps,
that no one sees them but the Friend whose help you daily ask,
if I may trust the well-worn cover of your guidebook.  I, too,
have seen them all, and heartily believe in the sincerity of
your resolution, since it begins to bear fruit.  Go on, dear,
patiently and bravely, and always believe that no one sympathizes
more tenderly with you than your loving . . .

Mother


"That does me good!  That's worth millions of money and
pecks of praise.  Oh, Marmee, I do try!  I will keep on trying,
and not get tired, since I have you to help me."

Laying her head on her arms, Jo wet her little romance with
a few happy tears, for she had thought that no one saw and
appreciated her efforts to be good, and this assurance was doubly
precious, doubly encouraging, because unexpected and from the
person whose commendation she most valued.  Feeling stronger than
ever to meet and subdue her Apollyon, she pinned the note inside her
frock, as a shield and a reminder, lest she be taken unaware, and
proceeded to open her other letter, quite ready for either good or
bad news.  In a big, dashing hand, Laurie wrote . . .

Dear Jo,
What ho!

Some english girls and boys are coming to see me tomorrow
and I want to have a jolly time.  If it's fine, I'm going to pitch
my tent in Longmeadow, and row up the whole crew to lunch and
croquet--have a fire, make messes, gypsy fashion, and all sorts
of larks.  They are nice people, and like such things.  Brooke will
go to keep us boys steady, and Kate Vaughn will play propriety for
the girls.  I want you all to come, can't let Beth off at any price,
and nobody shall worry her.  Don't bother about rations, I'll see
to that and everything else, only do come, there's a good fellow!

In a tearing hurry,
Yours ever, Laurie.

"Here's richness!" cried Jo, flying in to tell the news to Meg.

"Of course we can go, Mother?  It will be such a help to
Laurie, for I can row, and Meg see to the lunch, and the children
be useful in some way."

"I hope the Vaughns are not fine grown-up people.  Do you
know anything about them, Jo?" asked Meg.

"Only that there are four of them.  Kate is older than you,
Fred and Frank (twins) about my age, and a little girl (Grace), who
is nine or ten.  Laurie knew them abroad, and liked the boys.  I
fancied, from the way he primmed up his mouth in speaking of her,
that he didn't admire Kate much."

"I'm so glad my French print is clean, it's just the thing
and so becoming!" observed Meg complacently.  "Have you anything
decent, Jo?"

"Scarlet and gray boating suit, good enough for me.  I shall
row and tramp about, so I don't want any starch to think of.  You'll
come, Betty?"

"If you won't let any boys talk to me."

"Not a boy!"

"I like to please Laurie, and I'm not afraid of Mr. Brooke,
he is so kind.  But I don't want to play, or sing, or say anything.
I'll work hard and not trouble anyone, and you'll take care of me,
Jo, so I'll go."

"That's my good girl.  You do try to fight off your shyness,
and I love you for it.  Fighting faults isn't easy, as I know, and
a cheery word kind of gives a lift.  Thank you, Mother," And Jo
gave the thin cheek a grateful kiss, more precious to Mrs. March
than if it had given back the rosy roundness of her youth.

"I had a box of chocolate drops, and the picture I wanted to
copy," said Amy, showing her mail.

"And I got a note from Mr. Laurence, asking me to come over
and play to him tonight, before the lamps are lighted, and I shall
go," added Beth, whose friendship with the old gentleman prospered
finely.

"Now let's fly round, and do double duty today, so that we can
play tomorrow with free minds," said Jo, preparing to replace her
pen with a broom.

When the sun peeped into the girls' room early next morning
to promise them a fine day, he saw a comical sight.  Each had
made such preparation for the fete as seemed necessary and proper.
Meg had an extra row of little curlpapers across her forehead, Jo
had copiously anointed her afflicted face with cold cream, Beth
had taken Joanna to bed with her to atone for the approaching
separation, and Amy had capped the climax by putting a clothespin
on her nose to uplift the offending feature.  It was one of the
kind artists use to hold the paper on their drawing boards,
therefore quite appropriate and effective for the purpose it was now
being put.  This funny spectacle appeared to amuse the sun, for
he burst out with such radiance that Jo woke up and roused her
sisters by a hearty laugh at Amy's ornament.

Sunshine and laughter were good omens for a pleasure party,
and soon a lively bustle began in both houses.  Beth, who was
ready first, kept reporting what went on next door, and enlivened
her sisters' toilets by frequent telegrams from the window.

"There goes the man with the tent!  I see Mrs. Barker doing
up the lunch in a hamper and a great basket.  Now Mr. Laurence is
looking up at the sky and the weathercock.  I wish he would go
too.  There's Laurie, looking like a sailor, nice boy!  Oh, mercy
me!  Here's a carriage full of people, a tall lady, a little girl,
and two dreadful boys.  One is lame, poor thing, he's got a crutch.
Laurie didn't tell us that.  Be quick, girls!  It's getting late.
Why, there is Ned Moffat, I do declare.  Meg, isn't that the man
who bowed to you one day when we were shopping?"

"So it is.  How queer that he should come.  I thought he was
at the mountains.  There is Sallie.  I'm glad she got back in time.
Am I all right, Jo?" cried Meg in a flutter.

"A regular daisy.  Hold up your dress and put your hat on
straight, it looks sentimental tipped that way and will fly off
at the first puff.  Now then, come on!"

"Oh, Jo, you are not going to wear that awful hat?  It's too
absurd!  You shall not make a guy of yourself," remonstrated Meg,
as Jo tied down with a red ribbon the broad-brimmed, old-fashioned
leghorn Laurie had sent for a joke.

"I just will, though, for it's capital, so shady, light, and big.
It will make fun, and I don't mind being a guy if I'm comfortable."
With that Jo marched straight away and the rest followed,
a bright little band of sisters, all looking their best in summer
suits, with happy faces under the jaunty hatbrims.

Laurie ran to meet and present them to his friends in the
most cordial manner.  The lawn was the reception room, and for
several minutes a lively scene was enacted there.  Meg was
grateful to see that Miss Kate, though twenty, was dressed with
a simplicity which American girls would do well to imitate, and
who was much flattered by Mr. Ned's assurances that he came
especially to see her.  Jo understood why Laurie 'primmed up
his mouth' when speaking of Kate, for that young lady had a
standoff-don't-touch-me air, which contrasted strongly with the
free and easy demeanor of the other girls.  Beth took an observation
of the new boys and decided that the lame one was not 'dreadful',
but gentle and feeble, and she would be kind to him on that
account.  Amy found Grace a well-mannered, merry, little person,
and after staring dumbly at one another for a few minutes, they
suddenly became very good friends.

Tents, lunch, and croquet utensils having been sent on
beforehand, the party was soon embarked, and the two boats
pushed off together, leaving Mr. Laurence waving his hat on the
shore.  Laurie and Jo rowed one boat, Mr. Brooke and Ned the
other, while Fred Vaughn, the riotous twin, did his best to
upset both by paddling about in a wherry like a disturbed water
bug.  Jo's funny hat deserved a vote of thanks, for it was of
general utility.  It broke the ice in the beginning by producing
a laugh, it created quite a refreshing breeze, flapping to and
fro as she rowed, and would make an excellent umbrella for the
whole party, if a shower came up, she said.  Miss Kate decided
that she was 'odd', but rather clever, and smiled upon her from
afar.

Meg, in the other boat, was delightfully situated, face to
face with the rowers, who both admired the prospect and feathered
their oars with uncommon 'skill and dexterity'.  Mr. Brooke was
a grave, silent young man, with handsome brown eyes and a pleasant
voice.  Meg liked his quiet manners and considered him a walking
encyclopedia of useful knowledge.  He never talked to her much, but
he looked at her a good deal, and she felt sure that he did not
regard her with aversion.  Ned, being in college, of course put
on all the airs which freshmen think it their bounden duty to
assume.  He was not very wise, but very good-natured, and altogether
an excellent person to carry on a picnic.  Sallie Gardiner was
absorbed in keeping her white pique dress clean and chattering with
the ubiquitous Fred, who kept Beth in constant terror by his pranks.

It was not far to Longmeadow, but the tent was pitched and
the wickets down by the time they arrived.  A pleasant green field,
with three wide-spreading oaks in the middle and a smooth strip of
turf for croquet.

"Welcome to Camp Laurence!" said the young host, as they
landed with exclamations of delight.

"Brooke is commander in chief, I am commissary general, the
other fellows are staff officers, and you, ladies, are company.
The tent is for your especial benefit and that oak is your drawing
room, this is the messroom and the third is the camp kitchen.  Now,
let's have a game before it gets hot, and then we'll see about
dinner."

Frank, Beth, Amy, and Grace sat down to watch the game
played by the other eight.  Mr. Brooke chose Meg, Kate, and Fred.
Laurie took Sallie, Jo, and Ned.  The English played well, but
the Americans played better, and contested every inch of the
ground as strongly as if the spirit of '76 inspired them.  Jo and
Fred had several skirmishes and once narrowly escaped high words.
Jo was through the last wicket and had missed the stroke, which
failure ruffled her a good deal.  Fred was close behind her and
his turn came before hers.  He gave a stroke, his ball hit the
wicket, and stopped an inch on the wrong side.  No one was very
near, and running up to examine, he gave it a sly nudge with his
toe, which put it just an inch on the right side.

"I'm through!  Now, Miss Jo, I'll settle you, and get in
first," cried the young gentleman, swinging his mallet for another
blow.

"You pushed it.  I saw you.  It's my turn now," said Jo
sharply.

"Upon my word, I didn't move it.  It rolled a bit, perhaps,
but that is allowed.  So, stand off please, and let me have a go
at the stake."

"We don't cheat in America, but you can, if you choose," said
Jo angrily.

"Yankees are a deal the most tricky, everybody knows.  There
you go!" returned Fred, croqueting her ball far away.

Jo opened her lips to say something rude, but checked herself
in time, colored up to her forehead and stood a minute, hammering
down a wicket with all her might, while Fred hit the stake and
declared himself out with much exultation.  She went off to get her
ball, and was a long time finding it among the bushes, but she came
back, looking cool and quiet, and waited her turn patiently.  It
took several strokes to regain the place she had lost, and when she
got there, the other side had nearly won, for Kate's ball was the
last but one and lay near the stake.

"By George, it's all up with us!  Goodbye, Kate.  Miss Jo
owes me one, so you are finished," cried Fred excitedly, as they
all drew near to see the finish.

"Yankees have a trick of being generous to their enemies,"
said Jo, with a look that made the lad redden, "especially when
they beat them," she added, as, leaving Kate's ball untouched, she
won the game by a clever stroke.

Laurie threw up his hat, then remembered that it wouldn't do
to exult over the defeat of his guests, and stopped in the middle
of the cheer to whisper to his friend, "Good for you, Jo!  He did
cheat, I saw him.  We can't tell him so, but he won't do it again,
take my word for it."

Meg drew her aside, under pretense of pinning up a loose
braid, and said approvingly, "It was dreadfully provoking, but you
kept your temper, and I'm so glad, Jo."

"Don't praise me, Meg, for I could box his ears this minute.
I should certainly have boiled over if I hadn't stayed among the
nettles till I got my rage under control enough to hold my tongue.
It's simmering now, so I hope he'll keep out of my way," returned
Jo, biting her lips as she glowered at Fred from under her big hat.

"Time for lunch," said Mr. Brooke, looking at his watch.
"Commissary general, will you make the fire and get water, while
Miss March, Miss Sallie, and I spread the table?  Who can make good
coffee?"

"Jo can," said Meg, glad to recommend her sister.  So Jo,
feeling that her late lessons in cookery were to do her honor, went
to preside over the coffeepot, while the children collected dry
sticks, and the boys made a fire and got water from a spring near
by.  Miss Kate sketched and Frank talked to Beth, who was making
little mats of braided rushes to serve as plates.

The commander in chief and his aides soon spread the
tablecloth with an inviting array of eatables and drinkables,
prettily decorated with green leaves.  Jo announced that the coffee
was ready, and everyone settled themselves to a hearty meal, for youth
is seldom dyspeptic, and exercise develops wholesome appetites.
A very merry lunch it was, for everything seemed fresh and funny, and
frequent peals of laughter startled a venerable horse who fed near
by.  There was a pleasing inequality in the table, which produced
many mishaps to cups and plates, acorns dropped in the milk, little
black ants partook of the refreshments without being invited, and
fuzzy caterpillars swung down from the tree to see what was going
on.  Three white-headed children peeped over the fence, and an
objectionable dog barked at them from the other side of the river
with all his might and main.

"There's salt here," said Laurie, as he handed Jo a saucer
of berries.

"Thank you, I prefer spiders," she replied, fishing up two
unwary little ones who had gone to a creamy death.  "How dare
you remind me of that horrid dinner party, when yours is so
nice in every way?" added Jo, as they both laughed and ate out
of one plate, the china having run short.

"I had an uncommonly good time that day, and haven't got
over it yet.  This is no credit to me, you know, I don't do
anything.  It's you and Meg and Brooke who make it all go, and
I'm no end obliged to you.  What shall we do when we can't eat
anymore?" asked Laurie, feeling that his trump card had been
played when lunch was over.

"Have games till it's cooler.  I brought Authors, and I dare
say Miss Kate knows something new and nice.  Go and ask her.  She's
company, and you ought to stay with her more."

"Aren't you company too?  I thought she'd suit Brooke, but
he keeps talking to Meg, and Kate just stares at them through that
ridiculous glass of hers.  I'm going, so you needn't try to preach
propriety, for you can't do it, Jo."

Miss Kate did know several new games, and as the girls would
not, and the boys could not, eat any more, they all adjourned to
the drawing room to play Rig-marole.

"One person begins a story, any nonsense you like, and tells
as long as he pleases, only taking care to stop short at some
exciting point, when the next takes it up and does the same.  It's
very funny when well done, and makes a perfect jumble of tragical
comical stuff to laugh over.  Please start it, Mr. Brooke," said
Kate, with a commanding air, which surprised Meg, who treated the
tutor with as much respect as any other gentleman.

Lying on the grass at the feet of the two young ladies, Mr.
Brooke obediently began the story, with the handsome brown eyes
steadily fixed upon the sunshiny river.

"Once on a time, a knight went out into the world to seek
his fortune, for he had nothing but his sword and his shield.
He traveled a long while, nearly eight-and-twenty years, and
had a hard time of it, till he came to the palace of a good old
king, who had offered a reward to anyone who could tame and train
a fine but unbroken colt, of which he was very fond.  The knight
agreed to try, and got on slowly but surely, for the colt was a
gallant fellow, and soon learned to love his new master, though
he was freakish and wild.  Every day, when he gave his lessons to
this pet of the king's, the knight rode him through the city, and
as he rode, he looked everywhere for a certain beautiful face,
which he had seen many times in his dreams, but never found.  One
day, as he went prancing down a quiet street, he saw at the window
of a ruinous castle the lovely face.  He was delighted, inquired
who lived in this old castle, and was told that several captive
princesses were kept there by a spell, and spun all day to lay
up money to buy their liberty.  The knight wished intensely that
he could free them, but he was poor and could only go by each
day, watching for the sweet face and longing to see it out in
the sunshine.  At last he resolved to get into the castle and
ask how he could help them.  He went and knocked.  The great
door flew open, and he beheld . . ."

"A ravishingly lovely lady, who exclaimed, with a cry of
rapture, 'At last!  At last!'" continued Kate, who had read
French novels, and admired the style.  "'Tis she!' cried Count
Gustave, and fell at her feet in an ecstasy of joy.  'Oh, rise!'
she said, extending a hand of marble fairness.  'Never! Till you
tell me how I may rescue you,' swore the knight, still kneeling.
'Alas, my cruel fate condemns me to remain here till my tyrant
is destroyed.' 'Where is the villain?' 'In the mauve salon.  Go,
brave heart, and save me from despair.' 'I obey, and return
victorious or dead!' With these thrilling words he rushed away,
and flinging open the door of the mauve salon, was about to enter,
when he received . . ."

"A stunning blow from the big Greek lexicon, which an old
fellow in a black gown fired at him," said Ned.  "Instantly, Sir
What's-his-name recovered himself, pitched the tyrant out of the
window, and turned to join the lady, victorious, but with a bump
on his brow, found the door locked, tore up the curtains, made a
rope ladder, got halfway down when the ladder broke, and he went
headfirst into the moat, sixty feet below.  Could swim like a
duck, paddled round the castle till he came to a little door
guarded by two stout fellows, knocked their heads together till
they cracked like a couple of nuts, then, by a trifling exertion
of his prodigious strength, he smashed in the door, went up a
pair of stone steps covered with dust a foot thick, toads as big
as your fist, and spiders that would frighten you into hysterics,
Miss March.  At the top of these steps he came plump upon a sight
that took his breath away and chilled his blood . . ."

"A tall figure, all in white with a veil over its face and a
lamp in its wasted hand," went on Meg.  "It beckoned, gliding
noiselessly before him down a corridor as dark and cold as any
tomb.  Shadowy effigies in armor stood on either side, a dead
silence reigned, the lamp burned blue, and the ghostly figure ever
and anon turned its face toward him, showing the glitter of awful
eyes through its white veil.  They reached a curtained door, behind
which sounded lovely music.  He sprang forward to enter, but the
specter plucked him back, and waved threateningly before him a . . ."

"Snuffbox," said Jo, in a sepulchral tone, which convulsed the
audience.  "'Thankee,' said the knight politely, as he took a pinch
and sneezed seven times so violently that his head fell off.  'Ha!
Ha!' laughed the ghost, and having peeped through the keyhole at the
princesses spinning away for dear life, the evil spirit picked up
her victim and put him in a large tin box, where there were eleven
other knights packed together without their heads, like sardines,
who all rose and began to . . ."

"Dance a hornpipe," cut in Fred, as Jo paused for breath, "and,
as they danced, the rubbishy old castle turned to a man-of-war in
full sail.  'Up with the jib, reef the tops'l halliards, helm hard
alee, and man the guns!' roared the captain, as a Portuguese pirate
hove in sight, with a flag black as ink flying from her foremast.
'Go in and win, my hearties!' says the captain, and a tremendous
fight began.  Of course the British beat--they always do."

"No, they don't!" cried Jo, aside.

"Having taken the pirate captain prisoner, sailed slap over
the schooner, whose decks were piled high with dead and whose
lee scuppers ran blood, for the order had been 'Cutlasses, and
die hard!' 'Bosun's mate, take a bight of the flying-jib sheet,
and start this villain if he doesn't confess his sins double
quick,' said the British captain.  The Portuguese held his tongue
like a brick, and walked the plank, while the jolly tars cheered
like mad.  But the sly dog dived, came up under the man-of-war,
scuttled her, and down she went, with all sail set, 'To the
bottom of the sea, sea, sea' where . . ."

"Oh, gracious!  What shall I say?" cried Sallie, as Fred
ended his rigmarole, in which he had jumbled together pell-mell
nautical phrases and facts out of one of his favorite books.
"Well, they went to the bottom, and a nice mermaid welcomed them,
but was much grieved on finding the box of headless knights, and
kindly pickled them in brine, hoping to discover the mystery
about them, for being a woman, she was curious.  By-and-by a diver
came down, and the mermaid said, 'I'll give you a box of pearls
if you can take it up,' for she wanted to restore the poor things
to life, and couldn't raise the heavy load herself.  So the diver
hoisted it up, and was much disappointed on opening it to find
no pearls.  He left it in a great lonely field, where it was
found by a . . ."

"Little goose girl, who kept a hundred fat geese in the field,"
said Amy, when Sallie's invention gave out.  "The little girl was
sorry for them, and asked an old woman what she should do to help
them.  'Your geese will tell you, they know everything.' said the
old woman.  So she asked what she should use for new heads, since
the old ones were lost, and all the geese opened their hundred
mouths and screamed . . ."

"'Cabbages!'" continued Laurie promptly.  "'Just the thing,'
said the girl, and ran to get twelve fine ones from her garden.
She put them on, the knights revived at once, thanked her, and
went on their way rejoicing, never knowing the difference, for
there were so many other heads like them in the world that no one
thought anything of it.  The knight in whom I'm interested went back
to find the pretty face, and learned that the princesses had spun
themselves free and all gone and married, but one.  He was in a
great state of mind at that, and mounting the colt, who stood by
him through thick and thin, rushed to the castle to see which was
left.  Peeping over the hedge, he saw the queen of his affections
picking flowers in her garden.  'Will you give me a rose?' said
he.  'You must come and get it.  I can't come to you, it isn't
proper,' said she, as sweet as honey.  He tried to climb over
the hedge, but it seemed to grow higher and higher.  Then he
tried to push through, but it grew thicker and thicker, and he
was in despair.  So he patiently broke twig after twig till he
had made a little hole through which he peeped, saying imploringly,
'Let me in!  Let me in!' But the pretty princess did not seem
to understand, for she picked her roses quietly, and left him
to fight his way in.  Whether he did or not, Frank will tell you."

"I can't.  I'm not playing, I never do," said Frank, dismayed
at the sentimental predicament out of which he was to rescue the
absurd couple.  Beth had disappeared behind Jo, and Grace was
asleep.

"So the poor knight is to be left sticking in the hedge, is
he?" asked Mr. Brooke, still watching the river, and playing
with the wild rose in his buttonhole.

"I guess the princess gave him a posy, and opened the gate
after a while," said Laurie, smiling to himself, as he threw
acorns at his tutor.

"What a piece of nonsense we have made!  With practice we
might do something quite clever.  Do you know Truth?"

"I hope so," said Meg soberly.

"The game, I mean?"

"What is it?" said Fred.

"Why, you pile up your hands, choose a number, and draw out
in turn, and the person who draws at the number has to answer
truly any question put by the rest.  It's great fun."

"Let's try it," said Jo, who liked new experiments.

Miss Kate and Mr. Brooke, Meg, and Ned declined, but Fred,
Sallie, Jo, and Laurie piled and drew, and the lot fell to Laurie.

"Who are your heroes?" asked Jo.

"Grandfather and Napoleon."

"Which lady here do you think prettiest?" said Sallie.

"Margaret."

"Which do you like best?" from Fred.

"Jo, of course."

"What silly questions you ask!"  And Jo gave a disdainful
shrug as the rest laughed at Laurie's matter-of-fact tone.

"Try again.  Truth isn't a bad game," said Fred.

"It's a very good one for you," retorted Jo in a low voice.
Her turn came next.

"What is your greatest fault?" asked Fred, by way of testing
in her the virtue he lacked himself.

"A quick temper."

"What do you most wish for?" said Laurie.

"A pair of boot lacings," returned Jo, guessing and defeating his 
purpose.

"Not a true answer.  You must say what you really do want most."

"Genius.  Don't you wish you could give it to me, Laurie?"
And she slyly smiled in his disappointed face.

"What virtues do you most admire in a man?" asked Sallie.

"Courage and honesty."

"Now my turn," said Fred, as his hand came last.

"Let's give it to him," whispered Laurie to Jo, who nodded
and asked at once . . .

"Didn't you cheat at croquet?"

"Well, yes, a little bit."

"Good!  Didn't you take your story out of _The Sea Lion?_"
said Laurie.

"Rather."

"Don't you think the English nation perfect in every respect?"
asked Sallie.

"I should be ashamed of myself if I didn't."

"He's a true John Bull.  Now, Miss Sallie, you shall have
a chance without waiting to draw.  I'll harrrow up your feelings
first by asking if you don't think you are something of a flirt,"
said Laurie, as Jo nodded to Fred as a sign that peace was declared.

"You impertinent boy!  Of course I'm not," exclaimed Sallie,
with an air that proved the contrary.

"What do you hate most?" asked Fred.

"Spiders and rice pudding."

"What do you like best?" asked Jo.

"Dancing and French gloves."

"Well, I think Truth is a very silly play.  Let's have a
sensible game of Authors to refresh our minds," proposed Jo.

Ned, Frank, and the little girls joined in this, and while it
went on, the three elders sat apart, talking.  Miss Kate took out
her sketch again, and Margaret watched her, while Mr. Brooke lay
on the grass with a book, which he did not read.

"How beautifully you do it!  I wish I could draw," said Meg,
with mingled admiration and regret in her voice.

"Why don't you learn?  I should think you had taste and talent
for it," replied Miss Kate graciously.

"I haven't time."

"Your mamma prefers other accomplishments, I fancy.  So did
mine, but I proved to her that I had talent by taking a few lessons
privately, and then she was quite willing I should go on.  Can't
you do the same with your governess?"

"I have none."

"I forgot young ladies in America go to school more than with
us.  Very fine schools they are, too, Papa says.  You go to a
private one, I suppose?"

"I don't go at all.  I am a governess myself."

"Oh, indeed!" said Miss Kate, but she might as well have said,
"Dear me, how dreadful!" for her tone implied it, and something in
her face made Meg color, and wish she had not been so frank.

Mr. Brooke looked up and said quickly, "Young ladies in America
love independence as much as their ancestors did, and are admired
and respected for supporting themselves."

"Oh, yes, of course it's very nice and proper in them to do
so.  We have many most respectable and worthy young women who do
the same and are employed by the nobility, because, being the
daughters of gentlemen, they are both well bred and accomplished,
you know," said Miss Kate in a patronizing tone that hurt Meg's
pride, and made her work seem not only more distasteful, but
degrading.

"Did the German song suit, Miss March?" inquired Mr. Brooke,
breaking an awkward pause.

"Oh, yes!  It was very sweet, and I'm much obliged to whoever
translated it for me." And Meg's downcast face brightened as she spoke.

"Don't you read German?" asked Miss Kate with a look of surprise.

"Not very well.  My father, who taught me, is away, and I don't
get on very fast alone, for I've no one to correct my pronunciation."

"Try a little now.  Here is Schiller's Mary Stuart and a tutor who
loves to teach."  And Mr. Brooke laid his book on her lap with
an inviting smile.

"It's so hard I'm afraid to try," said Meg, grateful, but bashful
in the presence of the accomplished young lady beside her.

"I'll read a bit to encourage you." And Miss Kate read one
of the most beautiful passages in a perfectly correct but
perfectly expressionless manner.

Mr. Brooke made no comment as she returned the book to Meg,
who said innocently, "I thought it was poetry."

"Some of it is.  Try this passage."

There was a queer smile about Mr. Brooke's mouth as he
opened at poor Mary's lament.

Meg obediently following the long grass-blade which her new
tutor used to point with, read slowly and timidly, unconsciously
making poetry of the hard words by the soft intonation of her
musical voice.  Down the page went the green guide, and presently,
forgetting her listener in the beauty of the sad scene, Meg read
as if alone, giving a little touch of tragedy to the words of the
unhappy queen.  If she had seen the brown eyes then, she would
have stopped short, but she never looked up, and the lesson was
not spoiled for her.

"Very well indeed!" said Mr. Brooke, as she paused, quite ignoring
her many mistakes, and looking as if he did indeed love to teach.

Miss Kate put up her glass, and, having taken a survey of
the little tableau before her, shut her sketch book, saying with
condescension, "You've a nice accent and in time will be a clever
reader.  I advise you to learn, for German is a valuable
accomplishment to teachers.  I must look after Grace, she is romping."
And Miss Kate strolled away, adding to herself with a shrug, "I
didn't come to chaperone a governess, though she is young and
pretty.  What odd people these Yankees are.  I'm afraid Laurie
will be quite spoiled among them."

"I forgot that English people rather turn up their noses at
governesses and don't treat them as we do," said Meg, looking
after the retreating figure with an annoyed expression.

"Tutors also have rather a hard time of it there, as I know
to my sorrow.  There's no place like America for us workers, Miss
Margaret."  And Mr. Brooke looked so contented and cheerful that
Meg was ashamed to lament her hard lot.

"I'm glad I live in it then.  I don't like my work, but I get
a good deal of satisfaction out of it after all, so I won't complain.
I only wished I liked teaching as you do."

"I think you would if you had Laurie for a pupil.  I shall
be very sorry to lose him next year," said Mr. Brooke, busily
punching holes in the turf.

"Going to college, I suppose?" Meg's lips asked the question,
but her eyes added, "And what becomes of you?"

"Yes, it's high time he went, for he is ready, and as soon as
he is off, I shall turn soldier.  I am needed."

"I am glad of that!" exclaimed Meg.  "I should think every
young man would want to go, though it is hard for the mothers
and sisters who stay at home," she added sorrowfully.

"I have neither, and very few friends to care whether I live
or die," said Mr. Brooke rather bitterly as he absently put the
dead rose in the hole he had made and covered it up, like a
little grave.

"Laurie and his grandfather would care a great deal, and we
should all be very sorry to have any harm happen to you," said
Meg heartily.

"Thank you, that sounds pleasant," began Mr. Brooke, looking
cheerful again, but before he could finish his speech, Ned, mounted
on the old horse, came lumbering up to display his equestrian skill
before the young ladies, and there was no more quiet that day.

"Don't you love to ride?" asked Grace of Amy, as they stood
resting after a race round the field with the others, led by Ned.

"I dote upon it.  My sister, Meg, used to ride when Papa was
rich, but we don't keep any horses now, except Ellen Tree," added
Amy, laughing.

"Tell me about Ellen Tree.  Is it a donkey?" asked Grace
curiously.

"Why, you see, Jo is crazy about horses and so am I, but
we've only got an old sidesaddle and no horse.  Out in our
garden is an apple tree that has a nice low branch, so Jo put
the saddle on it, fixed some reins on the part that turns up,
and we bounce away on Ellen Tree whenever we like."

"How funny!" laughed Grace.  "I have a pony at home, and
ride nearly every day in the park with Fred and Kate.  It's very
nice, for my friends go too, and the Row is full of ladies and
gentlemen."

"Dear, how charming!  I hope I shall go abroad some day,
but I'd rather go to Rome than the Row," said Amy, who had
not the remotest idea what the Row was and wouldn't have asked
for the world.

Frank, sitting just behind the little girls, heard what they
were saying, and pushed his crutch away from him with an impatient
gesture as he watched the active lads going through all sorts of
comical gymnastics.  Beth, who was collecting the scattered
Author cards, looked up and said, in her shy yet friendly way,
"I'm afraid you are tired.  Can I do anything for you?"

"Talk to me, please.  It's dull, sitting by myself," answered
Frank, who had evidently been used to being made much of at home.

If he asked her to deliver a Latin oration, it would not
have seemed a more impossible task to bashful Beth, but there
was no place to run to, no Jo to hide behind now, and the poor
boy looked so wistfully at her that she bravely resolved to try.

"What do you like to talk about?" she asked, fumbling over
the cards and dropping half as she tried to tie them up.

"Well, I like to hear about cricket and boating and hunting,"
said Frank, who had not yet learned to suit his amusements to
his strength.

My heart!  What shall I do?  I don't know anything about them,
thought Beth, and forgetting the boy's misfortune in her flurry,
she said, hoping to make him talk, "I never saw any hunting, but
I suppose you know all about it."

"I did once, but I can never hunt again, for I got hurt leaping
a confounded five-barred gate, so there are no more horses and
hounds for me," said Frank with a sigh that made Beth hate herself
for her innocent blunder.

"Your deer are much prettier than our ugly buffaloes," she
said, turning to the prairies for help and feeling glad that she
had read one of the boys' books in which Jo delighted.

Buffaloes proved soothing and satisfactory, and in her eagerness
to amuse another, Beth forgot herself, and was quite unconscious
of her sisters' surprise and delight at the unusual spectacle
of Beth talking away to one of the dreadful boys, against whom she
had begged protection.

"Bless her heart!  She pities him, so she is good to him,"
said Jo, beaming at her from the croquet ground.

"I always said she was a little saint," added Meg, as if
there could be no further doubt of it.

"I haven't heard Frank laugh so much for ever so long," said
Grace to Amy, as they sat discussing dolls and making tea sets
out of the acorn cups.

"My sister Beth is a very fastidious girl, when she likes to be,"
said Amy, well pleased at Beth's success.  She meant 'facinating',
but as Grace didn't know the exact meaning of either word,
fastidious sounded well and made a good impression.

An impromptu circus, fox and geese, and an amicable game of
croquet finished the afternoon.  At sunset the tent was struck,
hampers packed, wickets pulled up, boats loaded, and the whole
party floated down the river, singing at the tops of their voices.
Ned, getting sentimental, warbled a serenade with the pensive
refrain . . .

    Alone, alone, ah! Woe, alone,

and at the lines . . .

    We each are young, we each have a heart,
    Oh, why should we stand thus coldly apart?

he looked at Meg with such a lackadiasical expression that she
laughed outright and spoiled his song.

"How can you be so cruel to me?" he whispered, under cover
of a lively chorus.  "You've kept close to that starched-up
Englishwoman all day, and now you snub me."

"I didn't mean to, but you looked so funny I really couldn't
help it," replied Meg, passing over the first part of his reproach,
for it was quite true that she had shunned him, remembering the
Moffat party and the talk after it.

Ned was offended and turned to Sallie for consolation, saying
to her rather pettishly, "There isn't a bit of flirt in that girl,
is there?"

"Not a particle, but she's a dear," returned Sallie, defending
her friend even while confessing her shortcomings.

"She's not a stricken deer anyway," said Ned, trying to be
witty, and succeeding as well as very young gentlemen usually do.

On the lawn where it had gathered, the little party separated
with cordial good nights and good-bys, for the Vaughns were going
to Canada.  As the four sisters went home through the garden, Miss
Kate looked after them, saying, without the patronizing tone in
her voice, "In spite of their demonstrative manners, American girls
are very nice when one knows them."

"I quite agree with you," said Mr. Brooke.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CASTLES IN THE AIR

Laurie lay luxuriously swinging to and fro in his hammock
one warm September afternoon, wondering what his neighbors were
about, but too lazy to go and find out.  He was in one of his
moods, for the day had been both unprofitable and unsatisfactory,
and he was wishing he could live it over again.  The hot weather
made him indolent, and he had shirked his studies, tried Mr.
Brooke's patience to the utmost, displeased his grandfather by
practicing half the afternoon, frightened the maidservants half
out of their wits by mischievously hinting that one of his dogs
was going mad, and, after high words with the stableman about
some fancied neglect of his horse, he had flung himself into
his hammock to fume over the stupidity of the world in general,
till the peace of the lovely day quieted him in spite of himself.
Staring up into the green gloom of the horse-chestnut trees above
him, he dreamed dreams of all sorts, and was just imagining
himself tossing on the ocean in a voyage round the world,
when the sound of voices brought him ashore in a flash.
Peeping through the meshes of the hammock, he saw the Marches
coming out, as if bound on some expedition.

"What in the world are those girls about now?" thought
Laurie, opening his sleepy eyes to take a good look, for there
was something rather peculiar in the appearance of his
neighbors.  Each wore a large, flapping hat, a brown linen pouch
slung over one shoulder, and carried a long staff.  Meg had a
cushion, Jo a book, Beth a basket, and Amy a portfolio.  All
walked quietly through the garden, out at the little back gate,
and began to climb the hill that lay between the house and river.

"Well, that's cool," said Laurie to himself, "to have a picnic
and never ask me!  They can't be going in the boat, for they
haven't got the key.  Perhaps they forgot it.  I'll take it to them,
and see what's going on."

Though possessed of half a dozen hats, it took him some time
to find one, then there was a hunt for the key, which was at last
discovered in his pocket, so that the girls were quite out of sight
when he leaped the fence and ran after them.  Taking the shortest way
to the boathouse, he waited for them to appear, but no one came,
and he went up the hill to take an observation.  A grove of pines
covered one part of it, and from the heart of this green spot came
a clearer sound than the soft sigh of the pines or the drowsy chirp
of the crickets.

"Here's a landscape!" thought Laurie, peeping through the
bushes, and looking wide-awake and good-natured already.

It was a rather pretty little picture, for the sisters sat
together in the shady nook, with sun and shadow flickering over
them, the aromatic wind lifting their hair and cooling their hot
cheeks, and all the little wood people going on with their affairs
as if these were no strangers but old friends.  Meg sat upon her
cushion, sewing daintily with her white hands, and looking as fresh
and sweet as a rose in her pink dress among the green.  Beth was
sorting the cones that lay thick under the hemlock near by, for
she made pretty things with them.  Amy was sketching a group of
ferns, and Jo was knitting as she read aloud.  A shadow passed
over the boy's face as he watched them, feeling that he ought to
go away because uninvited; yet lingering because home seemed very
lonely and this quiet party in the woods most attractive to his
restless spirit.  He stood so still that a squirrel, busy with its
harvesting, ran down a pine close beside him, saw him suddenly
and skipped back, scolding so shrilly that Beth looked up, espied
the wistful face behind the birches, and beckoned with a reassuring
smile.

"May I come in, please?  Or shall I be a bother?" he asked,
advancing slowly.

Meg lifted her eyebrows, but Jo scowled at her defiantly and
said at once, "Of course you may.  We should have asked you before,
only we thought you wouldn't care for such a girl's game as this."

"I always like your games, but if Meg doesn't want me, I'll
go away."

"I've no objection, if you do something.  It's against the
rules to be idle here," replied Meg gravely but graciously.

"Much obliged.  I'll do anything if you'll let me stop a bit,
for it's as dull as the Desert of Sahara down there.  Shall I sew,
read, cone, draw, or do all at once? Bring on your bears.
I'm ready."  And Laurie sat down with a submissive expression
delightful to behold.

"Finish this story while I set my heel," said Jo, handing him
the book.

"Yes'm." was the meek answer, as he began, doing his best to
prove his gratitude for the favor of admission into the 'Busy Bee
Society'.

The story was not a long one, and when it was finished, he
ventured to ask a few questions as a reward of merit.

"Please, ma'am, could I inquire if this highly instructive
and charming institution is a new one?"

"Would you tell him?" asked Meg of her sisters.

"He'll laugh," said Amy warningly.

"Who cares?" said Jo.

"I guess he'll like it," added Beth.

"Of course I shall!  I give you my word I won't laugh.  Tell
away, Jo, and don't be afraid."

"The idea of being afraid of you!  Well, you see we used to
play Pilgrim's Progress, and we have been going on with it in
earnest, all winter and summer."

"Yes, I know," said Laurie, nodding wisely.

"Who told you?" demanded Jo.

"Spirits."

"No, I did.  I wanted to amuse him one night when you were
all away, and he was rather dismal.  He did like it, so don't
scold, Jo," said Beth meekly.

"You can't keep a secret.  Never mind, it saves trouble now."

"Go on, please," said Laurie, as Jo became absorbed in her
work, looking a trifle displeased.

"Oh, didn't she tell you about this new plan of ours?  Well,
we have tried not to waste our holiday, but each has had a task
and worked at it with a will.  The vacation is nearly over, the
stints are all done, and we are ever so glad that we didn't dawdle."

"Yes, I should think so," and Laurie thought regretfully of
his own idle days.

"Mother likes to have us out-of-doors as much as possible, so
we bring our work here and have nice times.  For the fun of it we
bring our things in these bags, wear the old hats, use poles to
climb the hill, and play pilgrims, as we used to do years ago.  We
call this hill the Delectable Mountain, for we can look far away
and see the country where we hope to live some time."

Jo pointed, and Laurie sat up to examine, for through an
opening in the wood one could look cross the wide, blue river,
the meadows on the other side, far over the outskirts of the
great city, to the green hills that rose to meet the sky.  The
sun was low, and the heavens glowed with the splendor of an
autumn sunset.  Gold and purple clouds lay on the hilltops,
and rising high into the ruddy light were silvery white peaks
that shone like the airy spires of some Celestial City.

"How beautiful that is!" said Laurie softly, for he was quick
to see and feel beauty of any kind.

"It's often so, and we like to watch it, for it is never the
same, but always splendid," replied Amy, wishing she could paint it.

"Jo talks about the country where we hope to live sometime--the
real country, she means, with pigs and chickens and haymaking.
It would be nice, but I wish the beautiful country up there was real,
and we could ever go to it," said Beth musingly.

"There is a lovelier country even than that, where we shall go,
by-and-by, when we are good enough," answered Meg with her sweetest 
voice.

"It seems so long to wait, so hard to do.  I want to fly away
at once, as those swallows fly, and go in at that splendid gate."

"You'll get there, Beth, sooner or later, no fear of that,"
said Jo.  "I'm the one that will have to fight and work, and climb
and wait, and maybe never get in after all."

"You'll have me for company, if that's any comfort.  I shall
have to do a deal of traveling before I come in sight of your
Celestial City.  If I arrive late, you'll say a good word for me,
won't you, Beth?"

Something in the boy's face troubled his little friend, but
she said cheerfully, with her quiet eyes on the changing clouds,
"If people really want to go, and really try all their lives, I
think they will get in, for I don't believe there are any locks
on that door or any guards at the gate.  I always imagine it is
as it is in the picture, where the shining ones stretch out their
hands to welcome poor Christian as he comes up from the river."

"Wouldn't it be fun if all the castles in the air which we
make could come true, and we could live in them?" said Jo, after
a little pause.

"I've made such quantities it would be hard to choose which
I'd have," said Laurie, lying flat and throwing cones at the
squirrel who had betrayed him.

"You'd have to take your favorite one.  What is it?" asked
Meg.

"If I tell mine, will you tell yours?"

"Yes, if the girls will too."

"We will.  Now, Laurie."

"After I'd seen as much of the world as I want to, I'd like
to settle in Germany and have just as much music as I choose.  I'm
to be a famous musician myself, and all creation is to rush to hear
me.  And I'm never to be bothered about money or business, but just
enjoy myself and live for what I like.  That's my favorite castle.
What's yours, Meg?"

Margaret seemed to find it a little hard to tell hers, and
waved a brake before her face, as if to disperse imaginary gnats,
while she said slowly, "I should like a lovely house, full of all
sorts of luxurious things--nice food, pretty clothes, handsome
furniture, pleasant people, and heaps of money.  I am to be
mistress of it, and manage it as I like, with plenty of servants,
so I never need work a bit.  How I should enjoy it!  For I wouldn't
be idle, but do good, and make everyone love me dearly."

"Wouldn't you have a master for your castle in the air?" asked
Laurie slyly.

"I said 'pleasant people', you know," and Meg carefully tied
up her shoe as she spoke, so that no one saw her face.

"Why don't you say you'd have a splendid, wise, good husband
and some angelic little children?  You know your castle wouldn't
be perfect without," said blunt Jo, who had no tender fancies yet,
and rather scorned romance, except in books.

"You'd have nothing but horses, inkstands, and novels in
yours," answered Meg petulantly.

"Wouldn't I though?  I'd have a stable full of Arabian steeds,
rooms piled high with books, and I'd write out of a magic inkstand,
so that my works should be as famous as Laurie's music.  I want to
do something splendid before I go into my castle, something heroic
or wonderful that won't be forgotten after I'm dead.  I don't know
what, but I'm on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all
some day.  I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous,
that would suit me, so that is my favorite dream."

"Mine is to stay at home safe with Father and Mother, and
help take care of the family," said Beth contentedly.

"Don't you wish for anything else?" asked Laurie.

"Since I had my little piano, I am perfectly satisfied.  I
only wish we may all keep well and be together, nothing else."

"I have ever so many wishes, but the pet one is to be an
artist, and go to Rome, and do fine pictures, and be the best
artist in the whole world," was Amy's modest desire.

"We're an ambitious set, aren't we?  Every one of us, but
Beth, wants to be rich and famous, and gorgeous in every respect.
I do wonder if any of us will ever get our wishes," said Laurie,
chewing grass like a meditative calf.

"I've got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can
unlock the door remains to be seen," observed Jo mysteriously.

"I've got the key to mine, but I'm not allowed to try it.
Hang college!" muttered Laurie with an impatient sigh.

"Here's mine!" and Amy waved her pencil.

"I haven't got any," said Meg forlornly.

"Yes, you have," said Laurie at once.

"Where?"

"In your face."

"Nonsense, that's of no use."

"Wait and see if it doesn't bring you something worth having,"
replied the boy, laughing at the thought of a charming little
secret which he fancied he knew.

Meg colored behind the brake, but asked no questions and
looked across the river with the same expectant expression which
Mr. Brooke had worn when he told the story of the knight.

"If we are all alive ten years hence, let's meet, and see how
many of us have got our wishes, or how much nearer we are then than
now," said Jo, always ready with a plan.

"Bless me!  How old I shall be, twenty-seven!" exclaimed Meg,
who felt grown up already, having just reached seventeen.

"You and I will be twenty-six, Teddy, Beth twenty-four, and
Amy twenty-two.  What a venerable party!" said Jo.

"I hope I shall have done something to be proud of by that
time, but I'm such a lazy dog, I'm afraid I shall dawdle, Jo."

"You need a motive, Mother says, and when you get it, she is
sure you'll work splendidly."

"Is she?  By Jupiter, I will, if I only get the chance!" cried
Laurie, sitting up with sudden energy.  "I ought to be satisfied to
please Grandfather, and I do try, but it's working against the grain,
you see, and comes hard.  He wants me to be an India merchant, as he
was, and I'd rather be shot.  I hate tea and silk and spices, and
every sort of rubbish his old ships bring, and I don't care how soon
they go to the bottom when I own them.  Going to college ought to
satisfy him, for if I give him four years he ought to let me off
from the business.  But he's set, and I've got to do just as he did,
unless I break away and please myself, as my father did.  If there
was anyone left to stay with the old gentleman, I'd do it tomorrow."

Laurie spoke excitedly, and looked ready to carry his threat
into execution on the slightest provocation, for he was growing up
very fast and, in spite of his indolent ways, had a young man's
hatred of subjection, a young man's restless longing to try the
world for himself.

"I advise you to sail away in one of your ships, and never
come home again till you have tried your own way," said Jo, whose
imagination was fired by the thought of such a daring exploit, and
whose sympathy was excited by what she called 'Teddy's Wrongs'.

"That's not right, Jo.  You mustn't talk in that way, and Laurie
mustn't take your bad advice.  You should do just what your
grandfather wishes, my dear boy," said Meg in her most maternal tone.
"Do your best at college, and when he sees that you try to please him,
I'm sure he won't be hard on you or unjust to you.  As you say, there
is no one else to stay with and love him, and you'd never forgive
yourself if you left him without his permission.  Don't be dismal or
fret, but do your duty and you'll get your reward, as good Mr. Brooke
has, by being respected and loved."

"What do you know about him?" asked Laurie, grateful for the
good advice, but objecting to the lecture, and glad to turn the
conversation from himself after his unusual outbreak.

"Only what your grandpa told us about him, how he took good
care of his own mother till she died, and wouldn't go abroad as
tutor to some nice person because he wouldn't leave her.  And how
he provides now for an old woman who nursed his mother, and never
tells anyone, but is just as generous and patient and good as he
can be."

"So he is, dear old fellow!" said Laurie heartily, as Meg
paused, looking flushed and earnest with her story.  "It's like
Grandpa to find out all about him without letting him know, and
to tell all his goodness to others, so that they might like him.
Brooke couldn't understand why your mother was so kind to him,
asking him over with me and treating him in her beautiful friendly
way.  He thought she was just perfect, and talked about it for
days and days, and went on about you all in flaming style.  If ever
I do get my wish, you see what I'll do for Brooke."

"Begin to do something now by not plaguing his life out,"
said Meg sharply.

"How do you know I do, Miss?"

"I can always tell by his face when he goes away.  If you
have been good, he looks satisfied and walks briskly.  If you
have plagued him, he's sober and walks slowly, as if he wanted
to go back and do his work better."

"Well, I like that?  So you keep an account of my good and
bad marks in Brooke's face, do you?  I see him bow and smile as
he passes your window, but I didn't know you'd got up a telegraph."

"We haven't.  Don't be angry, and oh, don't tell him I said
anything!  It was only to show that I cared how you get on, and
what is said here is said in confidence, you know," cried Meg,
much alarmed at the thought of what might follow from her
careless speech.

"I don't tell tales," replied Laurie, with his 'high and mighty'
air, as Jo called a certain expression which he occasionally wore.
"Only if Brooke is going to be a thermometer, I must mind and have
fair weather for him to report."

"Please don't be offended.  I didn't mean to preach or tell
tales or be silly.  I only thought Jo was encouraging you in a
feeling which you'd be sorry for by-and-by.  You are so kind to
us, we feel as if you were our brother and say just what we think.
Forgive me, I meant it kindly."  And Meg offered her hand with a
gesture both affectionate and timid.

Ashamed of his momentary pique, Laurie squeezed the kind
little hand, and said frankly, "I'm the one to be forgiven.  I'm
cross and have been out of sorts all day.  I like to have you
tell me my faults and be sisterly, so don't mind if I am grumpy
sometimes.  I thank you all the same."

Bent on showing that he was not offended, he made himself as
agreeable as possible, wound cotton for Meg, recited poetry to
please Jo, shook down cones for Beth, and helped Amy with her
ferns, proving himself a fit person to belong to the 'Busy Bee
Society'.  In the midst of an animated discussion on the domestic
habits of turtles (one of those amiable creatures having strolled
up from the river), the faint sound of a bell warned them that
Hannah had put the tea 'to draw', and they would just have time
to get home to supper.

"May I come again?" asked Laurie.

"Yes, if you are good, and love your book, as the boys in
the primer are told to do," said Meg, smiling.

"I'll try."

"Then you may come, and I'll teach you to knit as the Scotchmen do.
There's a demand for socks just now," added Jo, waving hers
like a big blue worsted banner as they parted at the gate.

That night, when Beth played to Mr. Laurence in the twilight,
Laurie, standing in the shadow of the curtain, listened to the
little David, whose simple music always quieted his moody spirit,
and watched the old man, who sat with his gray head on his hand,
thinking tender thoughts of the dead child he had loved so much.
Remembering the conversation of the afternoon, the boy said to
himself, with the resolve to make the sacrifice cheerfully, "I'll
let my castle go, and stay with the dear old gentleman while he
needs me, for I am all he has."



CHAPTER FOURTEEN

SECRETS

Jo was very busy in the garret, for the October days began
to grow chilly, and the afternoons were short.  For two or three
hours the sun lay warmly in the high window, showing Jo seated
on the old sofa, writing busily, with her papers spread out
upon a trunk before her, while Scrabble, the pet rat,
promenaded the beams overhead, accompanied by his oldest son,
a fine young fellow, who was evidently very proud of his whiskers.
Quite absorbed in her work, Jo scribbled away till the last page
was filled, when she signed her name with a flourish and threw
down her pen, exclaiming . . .

"There, I've done my best!  If this won't suit I shall have
to wait till I can do better."

Lying back on the sofa, she read the manuscript carefully
through, making dashes here and there, and putting in many
exclamation points, which looked like little balloons.  Then she
tied it up with a smart red ribbon, and sat a minute looking at
it with a sober, wistful expression, which plainly showed how
earnest her work had been.  Jo's desk up here was an old tin
kitchen which hung against the wall.  In it she kept her papers,
and a few books, safely shut away from Scrabble, who, being
likewise of a literary turn, was fond of making a circulating
library of such books as were left in his way by eating the
leaves.  From this tin receptacle Jo produced another manuscript,
and putting both in her pocket, crept quietly downstairs, leaving
her friends to nibble on her pens and taste her ink.

She put on her hat and jacket as noiselessly as possible, and
going to the back entry window, got out upon the roof of a low
porch, swung herself down to the grassy bank, and took a roundabout
way to the road.  Once there, she composed herself, hailed a passing
omnibus, and rolled away to town, looking very merry and mysterious.

If anyone had been watching her, he would have thought her
movements decidedly peculiar, for on alighting, she went off at a
great pace till she reached a certain number in a certain busy
street.  Having found the place with some difficulty, she went
into the doorway, looked up the dirty stairs, and after standing
stock still a minute, suddenly dived into the street and walked
away as rapidly as she came.  This maneuver she repeated several
times, to the great amusement of a black-eyed young gentleman
lounging in the window of a building opposite.  On returning for
the third time, Jo gave herself a shake, pulled her hat over her
eyes, and walked up the stairs, looking as if she were going to
have all her teeth out.

There was a dentist's sign, among others, which adorned the
entrance, and after staring a moment at the pair of artificial
jaws which slowly opened and shut to draw attention to a fine
set of teeth, the young gentleman put on his coat, took his hat,
and went down to post himself in the opposite doorway, saying
with a smile and a shiver, "It's like her to come alone, but if
she has a bad time she'll need someone to help her home."

In ten minutes Jo came running downstairs with a very red
face and the general appearance of a person who had just passed
through a trying ordeal of some sort.  When she saw the young
gentleman she looked anything but pleased, and passed him with a
nod.  But he followed, asking with an air of sympathy, "Did you
have a bad time?"

"Not very."

"You got through quickly."

"Yes, thank goodness!"

"Why did you go alone?"

"Didn't want anyone to know."

"You're the oddest fellow I ever saw.  How many did you
have out?"

Jo looked at her friend as if she did not understand him, then
began to laugh as if mightily amused at something.

"There are two which I want to have come out, but I must wait
a week."

"What are you laughing at?  You are up to some mischief, Jo,"
said Laurie, looking mystified.

"So are you.  What were you doing, sir, up in that billiard
saloon?"

"Begging your pardon, ma'am, it wasn't a billiard saloon, but
a gymnasium, and I was taking a lesson in fencing."

"I'm glad of that."

"Why?"

"You can teach me, and then when we play _Hamlet_, you can be
Laertes, and we'll make a fine thing of the fencing scene."

Laurie burst out with a hearty boy's laugh, which made
several passers-by smile in spite of themselves.

"I'll teach you whether we play _Hamlet_ or not.  It's grand
fun and will straighten you up capitally.  But I don't believe
that was your only reason for saying 'I'm glad' in that decided
way, was it now?"

"No, I was glad that you were not in the saloon, because I
hope you never go to such places.  Do you?"

"Not often."

"I wish you wouldn't."

"It's no harm, Jo.  I have billiards at home, but it's no fun
unless you have good players, so, as I'm fond of it, I come sometimes
and have a game with Ned Moffat or some of the other fellows."

"Oh, dear, I'm so sorry, for you'll get to liking it better and
better, and will waste time and money, and grow like those dreadful
boys.  I did hope you'd stay respectable and be a satisfaction to
your friends," said Jo, shaking her head.

"Can't a fellow take a little innocent amusement now and then
without losing his respectability?" asked Laurie, looking nettled.

"That depends upon how and where he takes it.  I don't like
Ned and his set, and wish you'd keep out of it.  Mother won't let
us have him at our house, though he wants to come.  And if you
grow like him she won't be willing to have us frolic together as
we do now."

"Won't she?" asked Laurie anxiously.

"No, she can't bear fashionable young men, and she'd shut us
all up in bandboxes rather than have us associate with them."

"Well, she needn't get out her bandboxes yet.  I'm not a
fashionable party and don't mean to be, but I do like harmless
larks now and then, don't you?"

"Yes, nobody minds them, so lark away, but don't get wild,
will you?  Or there will be an end of all our good times."

"I'll be a double distilled saint."

"I can't bear saints.  Just be a simple, honest, respectable
boy, and we'll never desert you.  I don't know what I should do
if you acted like Mr. King's son.  He had plenty of money, but
didn't know how to spend it, and got tipsy and gambled, and ran
away, and forged his father's name, I believe, and was altogether
horrid."

"You think I'm likely to do the same?  Much obliged."

"No, I don't--oh, dear, no!--but I hear people talking about
money being such a temptation, and I sometimes wish you were poor.
I shouldn't worry then."

"Do you worry about me, Jo?"

"A little, when you look moody and discontented, as you sometimes do,
for you've got such a strong will, if you once get started wrong,
I'm afraid it would be hard to stop you."

Laurie walked in silence a few minutes, and Jo watched him,
wishing she had held her tongue, for his eyes looked angry, though
his lips smiled as if at her warnings.

"Are you going to deliver lectures all the way home?" he
asked presently.

"Of course not.  Why?"

"Because if you are, I'll take a bus.  If you're not, I'd like
to walk with you and tell you something very interesting."

"I won't preach any more, and I'd like to hear the news
immensely."

"Very well, then, come on.  It's a secret, and if I tell you,
you must tell me yours."

"I haven't got any," began Jo, but stopped suddenly,
remembering that she had.

"You know you have--you can't hide anything, so up and 'fess,
or I won't tell," cried Laurie.

"Is your secret a nice one?"

"Oh, isn't it!  All about people you know, and such fun!  You
ought to hear it, and I've been aching to tell it this long time.
Come, you begin."

"You'll not say anything about it at home, will you?"

"Not a word."

"And you won't tease me in private?"

"I never tease."

"Yes, you do.  You get everything you want out of people.  I
don't know how you do it, but you are a born wheedler."

"Thank you.  Fire away."

"Well, I've left two stories with a newspaperman, and he's to
give his answer next week," whispered Jo, in her confidant's ear.

"Hurrah for Miss March, the celebrated American authoress!"
cried Laurie, throwing up his hat and catching it again, to the
great delight of two ducks, four cats, five hens, and half a
dozen Irish children, for they were out of the city now.

"Hush!  It won't come to anything, I dare say, but I couldn't
rest till I had tried, and I said nothing about it because I didn't
want anyone else to be disappointed."

"It won't fail.  Why, Jo, your stories are works of Shakespeare
compared to half the rubbish that is published every day.
Won't it be fun to see them in print, and shan't we feel proud of
our authoress?"

Jo's eyes sparkled, for it is always pleasant to be believed
in, and a friend's praise is always sweeter than a dozen newspaper
puffs.

"Where's your secret?  Play fair, Teddy, or I'll never believe
you again," she said, trying to extinguish the brilliant hopes that
blazed up at a word of encouragement.

"I may get into a scrape for telling, but I didn't promise
not to, so I will, for I never feel easy in my mind till I've told
you any plummy bit of news I get.  I know where Meg's glove is."

"Is that all?" said Jo, looking disappointed, as Laurie nodded
and twinkled with a face full of mysterious intelligence.

"It's quite enough for the present, as you'll agree when I
tell you where it is."

"Tell, then."

Laurie bent, and whispered three words in Jo's ear, which
produced a comical change.  She stood and stared at him for a
minute, looking both surprised and displeased, then walked on,
saying sharply, "How do you know?"

"Saw it."

"Where?"

"Pocket."

"All this time?"

"Yes, isn't that romantic?"

"No, it's horrid."

"Don't you like it?"

"Of course I don't.  It's ridiculous, it won't be allowed.  My
patience!  What would Meg say?"

"You are not to tell anyone.  Mind that."

"I didn't promise."

"That was understood, and I trusted you."

"Well, I won't for the present, anyway, but I'm disgusted, and
wish you hadn't told me."

"I thought you'd be pleased."

"At the idea of anybody coming to take Meg away? No, thank you."

"You'll feel better about it when somebody comes to take you
away."

"I'd like to see anyone try it," cried Jo fiercely.

"So should I!" and Laurie chuckled at the idea.

"I don't think secrets agree with me, I feel rumpled up in
my mind since you told me that," said Jo rather ungratefully.

"Race down this hill with me, and you'll be all right,"
suggested Laurie.

No one was in sight, the smooth road sloped invitingly before
her, and finding the temptation irresistible, Jo darted away, soon
leaving hat and comb behind her and scattering hairpins as she ran.
Laurie reached the goal first and was quite satisfied with the
success of his treatment, for his Atlanta came panting up
with flying hair, bright eyes, ruddy cheeks, and no signs of
dissatisfaction in her face.

"I wish I was a horse, then I could run for miles in this
splendid air, and not lose my breath.  It was capital, but see
what a guy it's made me.  Go, pick up my things, like a cherub,
as you are," said Jo, dropping down under a maple tree, which
was carpeting the bank with crimson leaves.

Laurie leisurely departed to recover the lost property, and
Jo bundled up her braids, hoping no one would pass by till she
was tidy again.  But someone did pass, and who should it be but
Meg, looking particularly ladylike in her state and festival
suit, for she had been making calls.

"What in the world are you doing here?" she asked, regarding
her disheveled sister with well-bred surprise.

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

"And hairpins," added Laurie, throwing half a dozen into Jo's
lap.  "They grow on this road, Meg, so do combs and brown straw
hats."

"You have been running, Jo.  How could you?  When will you stop
such romping ways?" said Meg reprovingly, as she settled her cuffs
and smoothed her hair, with which the wind had taken liberties.

"Never till I'm stiff and old and have to use a crutch.  Don't
try to make me grow up before my time, Meg.  It's hard enough to
have you change all of a sudden.  Let me be a little girl as long
as I can."

As she spoke, Jo bent over the leaves to hide the trembling
of her lips, for lately she had felt that Margaret was fast getting
to be a woman, and Laurie's secret made her dread the separation
which must surely come some time and now seemed very near.  He saw
the trouble in her face and drew Meg's attention from it by asking
quickly, "Where have you been calling, all so fine?"

"At the Gardiners', and Sallie has been telling me all about
Belle Moffat's wedding.  It was very splendid, and they have gone
to spend the winter in Paris.  Just think how delightful that
must be!"

"Do you envy her, Meg?" said Laurie.

"I'm afraid I do."

"I'm glad of it!" muttered Jo, tying on her hat with a jerk.

"Why?" asked Meg, looking surprised.

"Because if you care much about riches, you will never go and
marry a poor man," said Jo, frowning at Laurie, who was mutely
warning her to mind what she said.

"I shall never 'go and marry' anyone," observed Meg, walking
on with great dignity while the others followed, laughing,
whispering, skipping stones, and 'behaving like children',
as Meg said to herself, though she might have been tempted
to join them if she had not had her best dress on.

For a week or two, Jo behaved so queerly that her sisters
were quite bewildered.  She rushed to the door when the postman
rang, was rude to Mr. Brooke whenever they met, would sit looking
at Meg with a woe-begone face, occasionally jumping up to shake
and then kiss her in a very mysterious manner.  Laurie and she
were always making signs to one another, and talking about
'Spread Eagles' till the girls declared they had both lost their
wits.  On the second Saturday after Jo got out of the window, Meg,
as she sat sewing at her window, was scandalized by the sight of
Laurie chasing Jo all over the garden and finally capturing her
in Amy's bower.  What went on there, Meg could not see, but shrieks
of laughter were heard, followed by the murmur of voices and a
great flapping of newspapers.

"What shall we do with that girl?  She never will behave like
a young lady," sighed Meg, as she watched the race with a
disapproving face.

"I hope she won't.  She is so funny and dear as she is," said
Beth, who had never betrayed that she was a little hurt at Jo's
having secrets with anyone but her.

"It's very trying, but we never can make her comme la fo,"
added Amy, who sat making some new frills for herself, with her
curls tied up in a very becoming way, two agreeable things that
made her feel unusually elegant and ladylike.

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

"Have you anything interesting there?" asked Meg, with condescension.

"Nothing but a story, won't amount to much, I guess," returned
Jo, carefully keeping the name of the paper out of sight.

"You'd better read it aloud.  That will amuse us and keep you
out of mischief," said Amy in her most grown-up tone.

"What's the name?" asked Beth, wondering why Jo kept her face
behind the sheet.

"The Rival Painters."

"That sounds well.  Read it," said Meg.

With a loud "Hem!" and a long breath, Jo began to read very
fast.  The girls listened with interest, for the tale was romantic,
and somewhat pathetic, as most of the characters died in the end.
"I like that about the splendid picture," was Amy's approving
remark, as Jo paused.

"I prefer the lovering part.  Viola and Angelo are two of our
favorite names, isn't that queer?" said Meg, wiping her eyes, for
the lovering part was tragical.

"Who wrote it?" asked Beth, who had caught a glimpse of Jo's
face.

The reader suddenly sat up, cast away the paper, displaying
a flushed countenance, and with a funny mixture of solemnity and
excitement replied in a loud voice, "Your sister."

"You?" cried Meg, dropping her work.

"It's very good," said Amy critically.

"I knew it!  I knew it! Oh, my Jo, I am so proud!"  and Beth
ran to hug her sister and exult over this splendid success.

Dear me, how delighted they all were, to be sure!  How Meg
wouldn't believe it till she saw the words.  "Miss Josephine
March," actually printed in the paper.  How graciously Amy
critisized the artistic parts of the story, and offered hints for
a sequel, which unfortunately couldn't be carried out, as the
hero and heroine were dead.  How Beth got excited, and skipped
and sang with joy.  How Hannah came in to exclaim, "Sakes alive,
well I never!" in great astonishment at 'that Jo's doin's'.  How
proud Mrs. March was when she knew it.  How Jo laughed, with
tears in her eyes, as she declared she might as well be a peacock
and done with it, and how the 'Spread Eagle' might be said to
flap his wings triumphantly over the House of March, as the
paper passed from hand to hand.

"Tell us about it."  "When did it come?" "How much did you
get for it?" "What will Father say?" "Won't Laurie laugh?" cried
the family, all in one breath as they clustered about Jo, for
these foolish, affectionate people made a jubilee of every little
household joy.

"Stop jabbering, girls, and I'll tell you everything,"
said Jo, wondering if Miss Burney felt any grander over her
Evelina than she did over her 'Rival Painters'.  Having told
how she disposed of her tales, Jo added, "And when I went to
get my answer, the man said he liked them both, but didn't
pay beginners, only let them print in his paper, and noticed
the stories.  It was good practice, he said, and when the
beginners improved, anyone would pay.  So I let him have the two
stories, and today this was sent to me, and Laurie caught me
with it and insisted on seeing it, so I let him.  And he said
it was good, and I shall write more, and he's going to get the
next paid for, and I am so happy, for in time I may be able to
support myself and help the girls."

Jo's breath gave out here, and wrapping her head in the
paper, she bedewed her little story with a few natural tears,
for to be independent and earn the praise of those she loved
were the dearest wishes of her heart, and this seemed to be the
first step toward that happy end.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN

A TELEGRAM

"November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year,"
said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon,
looking out at the frostbitten garden.

"That's the reason I was born in it," observed Jo pensively,
quite unconscious of the blot on her nose.

"If something very pleasant should happen now, we should
think it a delightful month," said Beth, who took a hopeful view
of everything, even November.

"I dare say, but nothing pleasant ever does happen in this
family," said Meg, who was out of sorts.  "We go grubbing along
day after day, without a bit of change, and very little fun.  We
might as well be in a treadmill."

"My patience, how blue we are!" cried Jo.  "I don't much
wonder, poor dear, for you see other girls having splendid times,
while you grind, grind, year in and year out.  Oh, don't I wish
I could manage things for you as I do for my heroines!  You're
pretty enough and good enough already, so I'd have some rich relation
leave you a fortune unexpectedly.  Then you'd dash out as an heiress,
scorn everyone who has slighted you, go abroad, and come home my Lady
Something in a blaze of splendor and elegance."

"People don't have fortunes left them in that style nowadays,
men have to work and women marry for money.  It's a dreadfully unjust
world," said Meg bitterly.

"Jo and I are going to make fortunes for you all.  Just wait ten
years, and see if we don't," said Amy, who sat in a corner making mud
pies, as Hannah called her little clay models of birds, fruit, and
faces.

"Can't wait, and I'm afraid I haven't much faith in ink and dirt,
though I'm grateful for your good intentions."

Meg sighed, and turned to the frostbitten garden again.  Jo
groaned and leaned both elbows on the table in a despondent attitude,
but Amy spatted away energetically, and Beth, who sat at the other
window, said, smiling, "Two pleasant things are going to happen
right away.  Marmee is coming down the street, and Laurie is tramping
through the garden as if he had something nice to tell."

In they both came, Mrs. March with her usual question, "Any letter
from Father, girls?" and Laurie to say in his persuasive way, "Won't
some of you come for a drive?  I've been working away at mathematics
till my head is in a muddle, and I'm going to freshen my wits by a
brisk turn.  It's a dull day, but the air isn't bad, and I'm going to
take Brooke home, so it will be gay inside, if it isn't out.  Come,
Jo, you and Beth will go, won't you?"

"Of course we will."

"Much obliged, but I'm busy."  And Meg whisked out her workbasket,
for she had agreed with her mother that it was best, for her at least,
not to drive too often with the young gentleman.

"We three will be ready in a minute," cried Amy, running away to
wash her hands.

"Can I do anything for you, Madam Mother?" asked Laurie, leaning
over Mrs. March's chair with the affectionate look and tone he always
gave her.

"No, thank you, except call at the office, if you'll be so kind,
dear.  It's our day for a letter, and the postman hasn't been.  Father
is as regular as the sun, but there's some delay on the way, perhaps."

A sharp ring interrupted her, and a minute after Hannah came in
with a letter.

"It's one of them horrid telegraph things, mum," she said,
handling it as if she was afraid it would explode and do some damage.

At the word 'telegraph', Mrs. March snatched it, read the two
lines it contained, and dropped back into her chair as white as if
the little paper had sent a bullet to her heart.  Laurie dashed
downstairs for water, while Meg and Hannah supported her, and Jo read
aloud, in a frightened voice . . .

    Mrs. March:
    Your husband is very ill.  Come at once.
    S.  HALE
    Blank Hospital, Washington.

How still the room was as they listened breathlessly, how
strangely the day darkened outside, and how suddenly the whole world
seemed to change, as the girls gathered about their mother, feeling
as if all the happiness and support of their lives was about to be
taken from them.

Mrs. March was herself again directly, read the message over,
and stretched out her arms to her daughters, saying, in a tone they
never forgot, "I shall go at once, but it may be too late.  Oh,
children, children, help me to bear it!"

For several minutes there was nothing but the sound of sobbing
in the room, mingled with broken words of comfort, tender assurances
of help, and hopeful whispers that died away in tears.  Poor Hannah
was the first to recover, and with unconscious wisdom she set all the
rest a good example, for with her, work was panacea for most
afflictions.

"The Lord keep the dear man!  I won't waste no time a-cryin',
but git your things ready right away, mum," she said heartily, as she
wiped her face on her apron, gave her mistress a warm shake of the
hand with her own hard one, and went away to work like three women
in one.

"She's right, there's no time for tears now.  Be calm, girls,
and let me think."

They tried to be calm, poor things, as their mother sat up,
looking pale but steady, and put away her grief to think and plan
for them.

"Where's Laurie?" she asked presently, when she had collected
her thoughts and decided on the first duties to be done.

"Here, ma'am.  Oh, let me do something!" cried the boy,
hurrying from the next room whither he had withdrawn, feeling that
their first sorrow was too sacred for even his friendly eyes to see.

"Send a telegram saying I will come at once.  The next train
goes early in the morning.  I'll take that."

"What else?  The horses are ready.  I can go anywhere, do
anything," he said, looking ready to fly to the ends of the earth.

"Leave a note at Aunt March's.  Jo, give me that pen and paper."

Tearing off the blank side of one of her newly copied pages,
Jo drew the table before her mother, well knowing that money for the
long, sad journey must be borrowed, and feeling as if she could do
anything to add a little to the sum for her father.

"Now go, dear, but don't kill yourself driving at a desperate
pace.  There is no need of that."

Mrs. March's warning was evidently thrown away, for five minutes
later Laurie tore by the window on his own fleet horse, riding as if
for his life.

"Jo, run to the rooms, and tell Mrs. King that I can't come.
On the way get these things.  I'll put them down, they'll be needed
and I must go prepared for nursing.  Hospital stores are not always
good.  Beth, go and ask Mr. Laurence for a couple of bottles of old
wine.  I'm not too proud to beg for Father.  He shall have the best
of everything.  Amy, tell Hannah to get down the black trunk, and
Meg, come and help me find my things, for I'm half bewildered."

Writing, thinking, and directing all at once might well bewilder
the poor lady, and Meg begged her to sit quietly in her room
for a little while, and let them work.  Everyone scattered
like leaves before a gust of wind, and the quiet, happy household
was broken up as suddenly as if the paper had been an evil spell.

Mr. Laurence came hurrying back with Beth, bringing every
comfort the kind old gentleman could think of for the invalid, and
friendliest promises of protection for the girls during the mother's
absence, which comforted her very much.  There was nothing he didn't
offer, from his own dressing gown to himself as escort.  But the
last was impossible.  Mrs. March would not hear of the old
gentleman's undertaking the long journey, yet an expression of relief 
was visible when he spoke of it, for anxiety ill fits one for traveling.
He saw the look, knit his heavy eyebrows, rubbed his hands, and
marched abruptly away, saying he'd be back directly.  No one had
time to think of him again till, as Meg ran through the entry, with
a pair of rubbers in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, she
came suddenly upon Mr. Brooke.

"I'm very sorry to hear of this, Miss March," he said, in the
kind, quiet tone which sounded very pleasantly to her perturbed
spirit.  "I came to offer myself as escort to your mother.  Mr.
Laurence has commissions for me in Washington, and it will give me
real satisfaction to be of service to her there."

Down dropped the rubbers, and the tea was very near following,
as Meg put out her hand, with a face so full of gratitude that Mr.
Brooke would have felt repaid for a much greater sacrifice than
the trifling one of time and comfort which he was about to take.

"How kind you all are!  Mother will accept, I'm sure, and it
will be such a relief to know that she has someone to take care of
her.  Thank you very, very much!"

Meg spoke earnestly, and forgot herself entirely till something
in the brown eyes looking down at her made her remember the
cooling tea, and lead the way into the parlor, saying she would
call her mother.

Everything was arranged by the time Laurie returned with a
note from Aunt March, enclosing the desired sum, and a few lines
repeating what she had often said before, that she had always told
them it was absurd for March to go into the army, always predicted
that no good would come of it, and she hoped they would take her
advice the next time.  Mrs. March put the note in the fire, the
money in her purse, and went on with her preparations, with her
lips folded tightly in a way which Jo would have understood if she
had been there.

The short afternoon wore away.  All other errands were done,
and Meg and her mother busy at some necessary needlework, while
Beth and Amy got tea, and Hannah finished her ironing with what
she called a 'slap and a bang', but still Jo did not come.  They
began to get anxious, and Laurie went off to find her, for no one
knew what freak Jo might take into her head.  He missed her,
however, and she came walking in with a very queer expression of
countenance, for there was a mixture of fun and fear, satisfaction
and regret in it, which puzzled the family as much as did the roll
of bills she laid before her mother, saying with a little choke in
her voice, "That's my contribution toward making Father comfortable
and bringing him home!"

"My dear, where did you get it?  Twenty-five dollars!  Jo, I
hope you haven't done anything rash?"

"No, it's mine honestly.  I didn't beg, borrow, or steal it.  I
earned it, and I don't think you'll blame me, for I only sold what
was my own."

As she spoke, Jo took off her bonnet, and a general outcry arose,
for all her abundant hair was cut short.

"Your hair!  Your beautiful hair!"  "Oh, Jo, how could you? Your
one beauty."  "My dear girl, there was no need of this."  "She doesn't
look like my Jo any more, but I love her dearly for it!"

As everyone exclaimed, and Beth hugged the cropped head tenderly,
Jo assumed an indifferent air, which did not deceive anyone a particle,
and said, rumpling up the brown bush and trying to look as if she liked
it, "It doesn't affect the fate of the nation, so don't wail, Beth.  It
will be good for my vanity, I was getting too proud of my wig.  It will do
my brains good to have that mop taken off.  My head feels deliciously
light and cool, and the barber said I could soon have a curly crop,
which will be boyish, becoming, and easy to keep in order.  I'm 
satisfied, so please take the money and let's have supper."

"Tell me all about it, Jo.  I am not quite satisfied, but I can't
blame you, for I know how willingly you sacrificed your vanity, as
you call it, to your love.  But, my dear, it was not necessary, and
I'm afraid you will regret it one of these days," said Mrs. March.

"No, I won't!" returned Jo stoutly, feeling much relieved that
her prank was not entirely condemned.

"What made you do it?" asked Amy, who would as soon have thought
of cutting off her head as her pretty hair.

"Well, I was wild to do something for Father," replied Jo, as
they gathered about the table, for healthy young people can eat even
in the midst of trouble.  "I hate to borrow as much as Mother does,
and I knew Aunt March would croak, she always does, if you ask for
a ninepence.  Meg gave all her quarterly salary toward the rent, and
I only got some clothes with mine, so I felt wicked, and was bound
to have some money, if I sold the nose off my face to get it."

"You needn't feel wicked, my child! You had no winter things and
got the simplest with your own hard earnings," said Mrs. March with a
look that warmed Jo's heart.

"I hadn't the least idea of selling my hair at first, but as I
went along I kept thinking what I could do, and feeling as if I'd
like to dive into some of the rich stores and help myself.  In a
barber's window I saw tails of hair with the prices marked, and one
black tail, not so thick as mine, was forty dollars.  It came to me
all of a sudden that I had one thing to make money out of, and
without stopping to think, I walked in, asked if they bought hair,
and what they would give for mine."

"I don't see how you dared to do it," said Beth in a tone of awe.

"Oh, he was a little man who looked as if he merely lived to oil
his hair.  He rather stared at first, as if he wasn't used to having
girls bounce into his shop and ask him to buy their hair.  He said he
didn't care about mine, it wasn't the fashionable color, and he never
paid much for it in the first place.  The work put into it made
it dear, and so on.  It was getting late, and I was afraid if it
wasn't done right away that I shouldn't have it done at all, and you
know when I start to do a thing, I hate to give it up.  So I begged
him to take it, and told him why I was in such a hurry.  It was
silly, I dare say, but it changed his mind, for I got rather excited,
and told the story in my topsy-turvy way, and his wife heard, and
said so kindly, 'Take it, Thomas, and oblige the young lady.  I'd do
as much for our Jimmy any day if I had a spire of hair worth selling."

"Who was Jimmy?" asked Amy, who liked to have things explained
as they went along.

"Her son, she said, who was in the army.  How friendly such
things make strangers feel, don't they?  She talked away all the
time the man clipped, and diverted my mind nicely."

"Didn't you feel dreadfully when the first cut came?" asked
Meg, with a shiver.

"I took a last look at my hair while the man got his things,
and that was the end of it.  I never snivel over trifles like that.
I will confess, though, I felt queer when I saw the dear old hair
laid out on the table, and felt only the short rough ends of my head.
It almost seemed as if I'd an arm or leg off.  The woman saw me look
at it, and picked out a long lock for me to keep.  I'll give it to
you, Marmee, just to remember past glories by, for a crop is so
comfortable I don't think I shall ever have a mane again."

Mrs. March folded the wavy chestnut lock, and laid it away with
a short gray one in her desk.  She only said, "Thank you, deary,"
but something in her face made the girls change the subject, and
talk as cheerfully as they could about Mr. Brooke's kindness, the
prospect of a fine day tomorrow, and the happy times they would have
when Father came home to be nursed.

No one wanted to go to bed when at ten o'clock Mrs. March put
by the last finished job, and said, "Come girls."  Beth went to the
piano and played the father's favorite hymn.  All began bravely, but
broke down one by one till Beth was left alone, singing with all her
heart, for to her music was always a sweet consoler.

"Go to bed and don't talk, for we must be up early and shall
need all the sleep we can get.  Good night, my darlings," said Mrs.
March, as the hymn ended, for no one cared to try another.

They kissed her quietly, and went to bed as silently as if the
dear invalid lay in the next room.  Beth and Amy soon fell asleep in
spite of the great trouble, but Meg lay awake, thinking the most
serious thoughts she had ever known in her short life.  Jo lay
motionless, and her sister fancied that she was asleep, till a stifled
sob made her exclaim, as she touched a wet cheek . . .

"Jo, dear, what is it?  Are you crying about father?"

"No, not now."

"What then?"

"My . . . My hair!" burst out poor Jo, trying vainly to smother
her emotion in the pillow.

It did not seem at all comical to Meg, who kissed and caressed
the afflicted heroine in the tenderest manner.

"I'm not sorry," protested Jo, with a choke.  "I'd do it again
tomorrow, if I could.  It's only the vain part of me that goes and
cries in this silly way.  Don't tell anyone, it's all over now.  I
thought you were asleep, so I just made a little private moan for my
one beauty.  How came you to be awake?"

"I can't sleep, I'm so anxious," said Meg.

"Think about something pleasant, and you'll soon drop off."

"I tried it, but felt wider awake than ever."

"What did you think of?"

"Handsome faces--eyes particularly," answered Meg, smiling to
herself in the dark.

"What color do you like best?"

"Brown, that is, sometimes.  Blue are lovely."

Jo laughed, and Meg sharply ordered her not to talk, then
amiably promised to make her hair curl, and fell asleep to dream of
living in her castle in the air.

The clocks were striking midnight and the rooms were very still
as a figure glided quietly from bed to bed, smoothing a coverlet here,
settling a pillow there, and pausing to look long and tenderly at each
unconscious face, to kiss each with lips that mutely blessed, and to
pray the fervent prayers which only mothers utter.  As she lifted the
curtain to look out into the dreary night, the moon broke suddenly
from behind the clouds and shone upon her like a bright, benignant
face, which seemed to whisper in the silence, "Be comforted, dear
soul!  There is always light behind the clouds."



CHAPTER SIXTEEN

LETTERS

In the cold gray dawn the sisters lit their lamp and read
their chapter with an earnestness never felt before.  For now
the shadow of a real trouble had come, the little books were full
of help and comfort, and as they dressed, they agreed to say goodbye
cheerfully and hopefully, and send their mother on her anxious
journey unsaddened by tears or complaints from them.  Everything
seemed very strange when they went down, so dim and still outside,
so full of light and bustle within.  Breakfast at that early hour
seemed odd, and even Hannah's familiar face looked unnatural as she
flew about her kitchen with her nightcap on.  The big trunk stood
ready in the hall, Mother's cloak and bonnet lay on the sofa, and
Mother herself sat trying to eat, but looking so pale and worn
with sleeplessness and anxiety that the girls found it very hard
to keep their resolution.  Meg's eyes kept filling in spite of
herself, Jo was obliged to hide her face in the kitchen roller
more than once, and the little girls wore a grave, troubled
expression, as if sorrow was a new experience to them.

Nobody talked much, but as the time drew very near and they
sat waiting for the carriage, Mrs. March said to the girls, who
were all busied about her, one folding her shawl, another smoothing
out the strings of her bonnet, a third putting on her overshoes,
and a fourth fastening up her travelling bag . . .

"Children, I leave you to Hannah's care and Mr. Laurence's
protection.  Hannah is faithfulness itself, and our good neighbor
will guard you as if you were his own.  I have no fears for you,
yet I am anxious that you should take this trouble rightly.  Don't
grieve and fret when I am gone, or think that you can be idle and
comfort yourselves by being idle and trying to forget.  Go on with
your work as usual, for work is a blessed solace.  Hope and keep busy,
and whatever happens, remember that you never can be fatherless."

"Yes, Mother."

"Meg, dear, be prudent, watch over your sisters, consult
Hannah, and in any perplexity, go to Mr. Laurence.  Be patient, Jo,
don't get despondent or do rash things, write to me often, and be
my brave girl, ready to help and cheer all.  Beth, comfort yourself
with your music, and be faithful to the little home duties, and you,
Amy, help all you can, be obedient, and keep happy safe at home."

"We will, Mother!  We will!"

The rattle of an approaching carriage made them all start and
listen.  That was the hard minute, but the girls stood it well.  No
one cried, no one ran away or uttered a lamentation, though their
hearts were very heavy as they sent loving messages to Father,
remembering, as they spoke that it might be too late to deliver them.
They kissed their mother quietly, clung about her tenderly, and
tried to wave their hands cheerfully when she drove away.

Laurie and his grandfather came over to see her off, and Mr.
Brooke looked so strong and sensible and kind that the girls
christened him 'Mr. Greatheart' on the spot.

"Goodby, my darlings!  God bless and keep us all!" whispered
Mrs. March, as she kissed one dear little face after the other,
and hurried into the carriage.

As she rolled away, the sun came out, and looking back, she
saw it shining on the group at the gate like a good omen.  They
saw it also, and smiled and waved their hands, and the last thing
she beheld as she turned the corner was the four bright faces, and
behind them like a bodyguard, old Mr. Laurence, faithful Hannah,
and devoted Laurie.

"How kind everyone is to us!" she said, turning to find fresh
proof of it in the respectful sympathy of the young man's face.

"I don't see how they can help it," returned Mr. Brooke,
laughing so infectiously that Mrs. March could not help smiling.
And so the journey began with the good omens of sunshine, smiles,
and cheerful words.

"I feel as if there had been an earthquake," said Jo, as their
neighbors went home to breakfast, leaving them to rest and refresh
themselves.

"It seems as if half the house was gone," added Meg forlornly.

Beth opened her lips to say something, but could only point to
the pile of nicely mended hose which lay on Mother's table, showing
that even in her last hurried moments she had thought and worked
for them.  It was a little thing, but it went straight to their
hearts, and in spite of their brave resolutions, they all broke
down and cried bitterly.

Hannah wisely allowed them to relieve their feelings, and
when the shower showed signs of clearing up, she came to the
rescue, armed with a coffeepot.

"Now, my dear young ladies, remember what your ma said, and
don't fret.  Come and have a cup of coffee all round, and then
let's fall to work and be a credit to the family."

Coffee was a treat, and Hannah showed great tact in making it
that morning.  No one could resist her persuasive nods, or the
fragrant invitation issuing from the nose of the coffee pot.  They
drew up to the table, exchanged their handkerchiefs for napkins,
and in ten minutes were all right again.

"'Hope and keep busy', that's the motto for us, so let's see
who will remember it best.  I shall go to Aunt March, as usual.
Oh, won't she lecture though!" said Jo, as she sipped with
returning spirit.

"I shall go to my Kings, though I'd much rather stay at home
and attend to things here," said Meg, wishing she hadn't made her
eyes so red.

"No need of that.  Beth and I can keep house perfectly well,"
put in Amy, with an important air.

"Hannah will tell us what to do, and we'll have everything
nice when you come home," added Beth, getting out her mop and dish
tub without delay.

"I think anxiety is very interesting," observed Amy, eating
sugar pensively.

The girls couldn't help laughing, and felt better for it,
though Meg shook her head at the young lady who could find
consolation in a sugar bowl.

The sight of the turnovers made Jo sober again; and when the
two went out to their daily tasks, they looked sorrowfully back
at the window where they were accustomed to see their mother's
face.  It was gone, but Beth had remembered the little household
ceremony, and there she was, nodding away at them like a
rosyfaced mandarin.

"That's so like my Beth!" said Jo, waving her hat, with a
grateful face.  "Goodbye, Meggy, I hope the Kings won't strain
today.  Don't fret about Father, dear," she added, as they parted.

"And I hope Aunt March won't croak.  Your hair is becoming,
and it looks very boyish and nice," returned Meg, trying not to
smile at the curly head, which looked comically small on her tall
sister's shoulders.

"That's my only comfort." And, touching her hat a la Laurie,
away went Jo, feeling like a shorn sheep on a wintry day.

News from their father comforted the girls very much, for
though dangerously ill, the presence of the best and tenderest of
nurses had already done him good.  Mr. Brooke sent a bulletin every
day, and as the head of the family, Meg insisted on reading the
dispatches, which grew more cheerful as the week passed.  At first,
everyone was eager to write, and plump envelopes were carefully
poked into the letter box by one or other of the sisters, who felt
rather important with their Washington correspondence.  As one of
these packets contained characteristic notes from the party, we will
rob an imaginary mail, and read them.

My dearest Mother:

It is impossible to tell you how happy your last letter made
us, for the news was so good we couldn't help laughing and crying
over it.  How very kind Mr. Brooke is, and how fortunate that Mr.
Laurence's business detains him near you so long, since he is so
useful to you and Father.  The girls are all as good as gold.  Jo
helps me with the sewing, and insists on doing all sorts of hard
jobs.  I should be afraid she might overdo, if I didn't know her
'moral fit' wouldn't last long.  Beth is as regular about her tasks
as a clock, and never forgets what you told her.  She grieves about
Father, and looks sober except when she is at her little piano.  Amy
minds me nicely, and I take great care of her.  She does her own
hair, and I am teaching her to make buttonholes and mend her stockings.
She tries very hard, and I know you will be pleased with her
improvement when you come.  Mr. Laurence watches over us like a
motherly old hen, as Jo says, and Laurie is very kind and neighborly.
He and Jo keep us merry, for we get pretty blue sometimes, and feel
like orphans, with you so far away.  Hannah is a perfect saint.  She
does not scold at all, and always calls me Miss Margaret, which is
quite proper, you know, and treats me with respect.  We are all
well and busy, but we long, day and night, to have you back.  Give
my dearest love to Father, and believe me, ever your own . . .

MEG

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

My precious Marmee:

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

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

TOPSY-TURVY JO


    A SONG FROM THE SUDS

    Queen of my tub, I merrily sing,
    While the white foam rises high,
    And sturdily wash and rinse and wring,
    And fasten the clothes to dry.
    Then out in the free fresh air they swing,
    Under the sunny sky.

    I wish we could wash from our hearts and souls
    The stains of the week away,
    And let water and air by their magic make
    Ourselves as pure as they.
    Then on the earth there would be indeed,
    A glorious washing day!

    Along the path of a useful life,
    Will heartsease ever bloom.
    The busy mind has no time to think
    Of sorrow or care or gloom.
    And anxious thoughts may be swept away,
    As we bravely wield a broom.

    I am glad a task to me is given,
    To labor at day by day,
    For it brings me health and strength and hope,
    And I cheerfully learn to say,
    "Head, you may think, Heart, you may feel,
    But, Hand, you shall work alway!"


Dear Mother,

There is only room for me to send my love, and some pressed
pansies from the root I have been keeping safe in the house for
Father to see.  I read every morning, try to be good all day, and
sing myself to sleep with Father's tune.  I can't sing 'LAND OF
THE LEAL' now, it makes me cry.  Everyone is very kind, and we are
as happy as we can be without you.  Amy wants the rest of the page,
so I must stop.  I didn't forget to cover the holders, and I wind
the clock and air the rooms every day.

Kiss dear Father on the cheek he calls mine.  Oh, do come soon
to your loving . . .

LITTLE BETH


Ma Chere Mamma,

We are all well I do my lessons always and never corroberate
the girls--Meg says I mean contradick so I put in both words and
you can take the properest.  Meg is a great comfort to me and lets
me have jelly every night at tea its so good for me Jo says because
it keeps me sweet tempered.  Laurie is not as respeckful as he ought
to be now I am almost in my teens, he calls me Chick and hurts my
feelings by talking French to me very fast when I say Merci or Bon
jour as Hattie King does.  The sleeves of my blue dress were all
worn out, and Meg put in new ones, but the full front came wrong
and they are more blue than the dress.  I felt bad but did not fret
I bear my troubles well but I do wish Hannah would put more starch
in my aprons and have buckwheats every day.  Can't she?  Didn't I
make that interrigation point nice?  Meg says my punchtuation and
spelling are disgraceful and I am mortyfied but dear me I have so
many things to do, I can't stop.  Adieu, I send heaps of love to
Papa.  Your affectionate daughter . . .

AMY CURTIS MARCH


Dear Mis March,

I jes drop a line to say we git on fust rate.  The girls is
clever and fly round right smart.  Miss Meg is going to make a
proper good housekeeper.  She hes the liking for it, and gits the
hang of things surprisin quick.  Jo doos beat all for goin ahead,
but she don't stop to cal'k'late fust, and you never know where
she's like to bring up.  She done out a tub of clothes on Monday,
but she starched 'em afore they was wrenched, and blued a pink
calico dress till I thought I should a died a laughin.  Beth is the
best of little creeters, and a sight of help to me, bein so
forehanded and dependable.  She tries to learn everything, and really
goes to market beyond her years, likewise keeps accounts, with my
help, quite wonderful.  We have got on very economical so fur.  I
don't let the girls hev coffee only once a week, accordin to your
wish, and keep em on plain wholesome vittles.  Amy does well
without frettin, wearin her best clothes and eatin sweet stuff.
Mr. Laurie is as full of didoes as usual, and turns the house upside
down frequent, but he heartens the girls, so I let em hev full
swing.  The old gentleman sends heaps of things, and is rather
wearin, but means wal, and it aint my place to say nothin.  My
bread is riz, so no more at this time.  I send my duty to Mr.
March, and hope he's seen the last of his Pewmonia.

Yours respectful,

Hannah Mullet


Head Nurse of Ward No. 2,


All serene on the Rappahannock, troops in fine condition,
commisary department well conducted, the Home Guard under Colonel
Teddy always on duty, Commander in Chief General Laurence reviews
the army daily, Quartermaster Mullet keeps order in camp, and Major
Lion does picket duty at night.  A salute of twenty-four guns was
fired on reciept of good news from Washington, and a dress parade
took place at headquarters.  Commander in chief sends best wishes,
in which he is heartily joined by . . .

COLONEL TEDDY


Dear Madam:

The little girls are all well.  Beth and my boy report daily.
Hannah is a model servant, and guards pretty Meg like a dragon.
Glad the fine weather holds.  Pray make Brooke useful, and draw
on me for funds if expenses exceed your estimate.  Don't let your
husband want anything.  Thank God he is mending.

Your sincere friend and servant,
JAMES LAURENCE



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

LITTLE FAITHFUL

For a week the amount of virtue in the old house would have
supplied the neighborhood.  It was really amazing, for everyone
seemed in a heavenly frame of mind, and self-denial was all the
fashion.  Relieved of their first anxiety about their father, the
girls insensibly relaxed their praiseworthy efforts a little,
and began to fall back into old ways.  They did not forget
their motto, but hoping and keeping busy seemed to grow easier,
and after such tremendous exertions, they felt that Endeavor
deserved a holiday, and gave it a good many.

Jo caught a bad cold through neglect to cover the shorn
head enough, and was ordered to stay at home till she was better,
for Aunt March didn't like to hear people read with colds in
their heads.  Jo liked this, and after an energetic rummage from
garret to cellar, subsided on the sofa to nurse her cold with
arsenicum and books.  Amy found that housework and art did not
go well together, and returned to her mud pies.  Meg went daily
to her pupils, and sewed, or thought she did, at home, but much
time was spent in writing long letters to her mother, or reading
the Washington dispatches over and over.  Beth kept on, with only
slight relapses into idleness or grieving.

All the little duties were faithfully done each day, and
many of her sisters' also, for they were forgetful, and the house
seemed like a clock whose pendulum was gone a-visiting.  When her
heart got heavy with longings for Mother or fears for Father, she
went away into a certain closet, hid her face in the folds of a
dear old gown, and made her little moan and prayed her little
prayer quietly by herself.  Nobody knew what cheered her up after
a sober fit, but everyone felt how sweet and helpful Beth was, and
fell into a way of going to her for comfort or advice in their
small affairs.

All were unconscious that this experience was a test of
character, and when the first excitement was over, felt that they
had done well and deserved praise.  So they did, but their
mistake was in ceasing to do well, and they learned this lesson
through much anxiety and regret.

"Meg, I wish you'd go and see the Hummels.  You know Mother
told us not to forget them." said Beth, ten days after Mrs. March's
departure.

"I'm too tired to go this afternoon," replied Meg, rocking
comfortably as she sewed.

"Can't you, Jo?" asked Beth.

"Too stormy for me with my cold."

"I thought it was almost well."

"It's well enough for me to go out with Laurie, but not well
enough to go to the Hummels'," said Jo, laughing, but looking a
little ashamed of her inconsistency.

"Why don't you go yourself?" asked Meg.

"I have been every day, but the baby is sick, and I don't
know what to do for it.  Mrs. Hummel goes away to work, and
Lottchen takes care of it.  But it gets sicker and sicker,
and I think you or Hannah ought to go."

Beth spoke earnestly, and Meg promised she would go tomorrow.

"Ask Hannah for some nice little mess, and take it round, Beth,
the air will do you good," said Jo, adding apologetically, "I'd go
but I want to finish my writing."

"My head aches and I'm tired, so I thought maybe some of you
would go," said Beth.

"Amy will be in presently, and she will run down for us,"
suggested Meg.

So Beth lay down on the sofa, the others returned to their work,
and the Hummels were forgotten.  An hour passed.  Amy did not come,
Meg went to her room to try on a new dress, Jo was absorbed in her
story, and Hannah was sound asleep before the kitchen fire, when
Beth quietly put on her hood, filled her basket with odds and ends
for the poor children, and went out into the chilly air with a heavy
head and a grieved look in her patient eyes.  It was late when she
came back, and no one saw her creep upstairs and shut herself into
her mother's room.  Half an hour after, Jo went to 'Mother's closet'
for something, and there found little Beth sitting on the medicine
chest, looking very grave, with red eyes and a camphor bottle in
her hand.

"Christopher Columbus!  What's the matter?" cried Jo, as Beth
put out her hand as if to warn her off, and asked quickly. . . 

"You've had the scarlet fever, haven't you?"

"Years ago, when Meg did.  Why?"

"Then I'll tell you.  Oh, Jo, the baby's dead!"

"What baby?"

"Mrs. Hummel's.  It died in my lap before she got home," cried
Beth with a sob.

"My poor dear, how dreadful for you!  I ought to have gone,"
said Jo, taking her sister in her arms as she sat down in her
mother's big chair, with a remorseful face.

"It wasn't dreadful, Jo, only so sad!  I saw in a minute it
was sicker, but Lottchen said her mother had gone for a doctor, so
I took Baby and let Lotty rest.  It seemed asleep, but all of a
sudden if gave a little cry and trembled, and then lay very still.
I tried to warm its feet, and Lotty gave it some milk, but it didn't
stir, and I knew it was dead."

"Don't cry, dear!  What did you do?"

"I just sat and held it softly till Mrs. Hummel came with the
doctor.  He said it was dead, and looked at Heinrich and Minna, who
have sore throats.  'Scarlet fever, ma'am.  Ought to have called me
before,' he said crossly.  Mrs. Hummel told him she was poor, and
had tried to cure baby herself, but now it was too late, and she
could only ask him to help the others and trust to charity for his
pay.  He smiled then, and was kinder, but it was very sad, and I
cried with them till he turned round all of a sudden, and told me
to go home and take belladonna right away, or I'd have the fever."

"No, you won't!" cried Jo, hugging her close, with a frightened
look.  "Oh, Beth, if you should be sick I never could forgive myself!
What shall we do?"

"Don't be frightened, I guess I shan't have it badly.  I looked
in Mother's book, and saw that it begins with headache, sore throat,
and queer feelings like mine, so I did take some belladonna, and I
feel better," said Beth, laying her cold hands on her hot forehead
and trying to look well.

"If Mother was only at home!" exclaimed Jo, seizing the book,
and feeling that Washington was an immense way off.  She read a page,
looked at Beth, felt her head, peeped into her throat, and then
said gravely, "You've been over the baby every day for more than a
week, and among the others who are going to have it, so I'm afraid
you are going to have it, Beth.  I'll call Hannah, she knows all
about sickness."

"Don't let Amy come.  She never had it, and I should hate to
give it to her.  Can't you and Meg have it over again?" asked Beth,
anxiously.

"I guess not.  Don't care if I do.  Serve me right, selfish pig,
to let you go, and stay writing rubbish myself!" muttered Jo, as she
went to consult Hannah.

The good soul was wide awake in a minute, and took the lead at
once, assuring that there was no need to worry; every one had scarlet
fever, and if rightly treated, nobody died, all of which Jo believed,
and felt much relieved as they went up to call Meg.

"Now I'll tell you what we'll do," said Hannah, when she had
examined and questioned Beth, "we will have Dr. Bangs, just to take
a look at you, dear, and see that we start right.  Then we'll send
Amy off to Aunt March's for a spell, to keep her out of harm's way,
and one of you girls can stay at home and amuse Beth for a day or two."

"I shall stay, of course, I'm oldest," began Meg, looking anxious
and self-reproachful.

"I shall, because it's my fault she is sick.  I told Mother I'd
do the errands, and I haven't," said Jo decidedly.

"Which will you have, Beth?  There ain't no need of but one,"
aid Hannah.

"Jo, please." And Beth leaned her head against her sister with
a contented look, which effectually settled that point.

"I'll go and tell Amy," said Meg, feeling a little hurt, yet
rather relieved on the whole, for she did not like nursing, and Jo
did.

Amy rebelled outright, and passionately declared that she had
rather have the fever than go to Aunt March.  Meg reasoned, pleaded,
and commanded, all in vain.  Amy protested that she would not go,
and Meg left her in despair to ask Hannah what should be done.  Before
she came back, Laurie walked into the parlor to find Amy sobbing, with
her head in the sofa cushions.  She told her story, expecting to be
consoled, but Laurie only put his hands in his pockets and walked
about the room, whistling softly, as he knit his brows in deep
thought.  Presently he sat down beside her, and said, in his most
wheedlesome tone, "Now be a sensible little woman, and do as they say.
No, don't cry, but hear what a jolly plan I've got.  You go to Aunt
March's, and I'll come and take you out every day, driving or walking,
and we'll have capital times.  Won't that be better than moping here?"

"I don't wish to be sent off as if I was in the way," began Amy,
in an injured voice.

"Bless your heart, child, it's to keep you well.  You don't
want to be sick, do you?"

"No, I'm sure I don't, but I dare say I shall be, for I've been
with Beth all the time."

"That's the very reason you ought to go away at once, so that
you may escape it.  Change of air and care will keep you well, I
dare say, or if it does not entirely, you will have the fever more
lightly.  I advise you to be off as soon as you can, for scarlet fever
is no joke, miss."

"But it's dull at Aunt March's, and she is so cross," said Amy,
looking rather frightened.

"It won't be dull with me popping in every day to tell you how
Beth is, and take you out gallivanting.  The old lady likes me, and
I'll be as sweet as possible to her, so she won't peck at us,
whatever we do."

"Will you take me out in the trotting wagon with Puck?"

"On my honor as a gentleman."

"And come every single day?"

"See if I don't!"

"And bring me back the minute Beth is well?"

"The identical minute."

"And go to the theater, truly?"

"A dozen theaters, if we may."

"Well--I guess I will," said Amy slowly.

"Good girl!  Call Meg, and tell her you'll give in," said
Laurie, with an approving pat, which annoyed Amy more than the
'giving in'.

Meg and Jo came running down to behold the miracle which had
been wrought, and Amy, feeling very precious and self-sacrificing,
promised to go, if the doctor said Beth was going to be ill.

"How is the little dear?" asked Laurie, for Beth was his
especial pet, and he felt more anxious about her than he liked to
show.

"She is lying down on Mother's bed, and feels better.  The
baby's death troubled her, but I dare say she has only got cold.
Hannah says she thinks so, but she looks worried, and that makes me
fidgety," answered Meg.

"What a trying world it is!" said Jo, rumpling up her hair in
a fretful way.  "No sooner do we get out of one trouble than down
comes another.  There doesn't seem to be anything to hold on to
when Mother's gone, so I'm all at sea."

"Well, don't make a porcupine of yourself, it isn't becoming.
Settle your wig, Jo, and tell me if I shall telegraph to your mother,
or do anything?" asked Laurie, who never had been reconciled to the
loss of his friend's one beauty.

"That is what troubles me," said Meg.  "I think we ought to tell
her if Beth is really ill, but Hannah says we mustn't, for Mother
can't leave Father, and it will only make them anxious.  Beth won't
be sick long, and Hannah knows just what to do, and Mother said we
were to mind her, so I suppose we must, but it doesn't seem quite
right to me."

"Hum, well, I can't say.  Suppose you ask Grandfather after
the doctor has been."

"We will.  Jo, go and get Dr. Bangs at once," commanded Meg.
"We can't decide anything till he has been."

"Stay where you are, Jo.  I'm errand boy to this establishment,"
said Laurie, taking up his cap.

"I'm afraid you are busy," began Meg.

"No, I've done my lessons for the day."

"Do you study in vacation time?" asked Jo.

"I follow the good example my neighbors set me," was Laurie's
answer, as he swung himself out of the room.

"I have great hopes for my boy," observed Jo, watching him
fly over the fence with an approving smile.

"He does very well, for a boy," was Meg's somewhat ungracious
answer, for the subject did not interest her.

Dr. Bangs came, said Beth had symptoms of the fever, but he thought
she would have it lightly, though he looked sober over the Hummel 
story.  Amy was ordered off at once, and provided with something to ward
off danger, she departed in great state, with Jo and Laurie as escort.

Aunt March received them with her usual hospitality.

"What do you want now?" she asked, looking sharply over her
spectacles, while the parrot, sitting on the back of her chair,
called out . . .

"Go away.  No boys allowed here."

Laurie retired to the window, and Jo told her story.

"No more than I expected, if you are allowed to go poking
about among poor folks.  Amy can stay and make herself useful
if she isn't sick, which I've no doubt she will be, looks like
it now.  Don't cry, child, it worries me to hear people sniff."

Amy was on the point of crying, but Laurie slyly pulled the
parrot's tail, which caused Polly to utter an astonished croak and
call out, "Bless my boots!" in such a funny way, that she laughed
instead.

"What do you hear from your mother?" asked the old lady gruffly.

"Father is much better," replied Jo, trying to keep sober.

"Oh, is he?  Well, that won't last long, I fancy.  March
never had any stamina," was the cheerful reply.

"Ha, ha!  Never say die, take a pinch of snuff, goodbye, goodbye!"
squalled Polly, dancing on her perch, and clawing at the old
lady's cap as Laurie tweaked him in the rear.

"Hold your tongue, you disrespectful old bird!  And, Jo, you'd
better go at once.  It isn't proper to be gadding about so late with
a rattlepated boy like . . ."

"Hold your tongue, you disrespectful old bird!" cried Polly,
tumbling off the chair with a bounce, and running to peck the
'rattlepated' boy, who was shaking with laughter at the last speech.

"I don't think I can bear it, but I'll try," thought Amy, as
she was left alone with Aunt March.

"Get along, you fright!" screamed Polly, and at that rude speech
Amy could not restrain a sniff.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

DARK DAYS

Beth did have the fever, and was much sicker than anyone but
Hannah and the doctor suspected.  The girls knew nothing about
illness, and Mr. Laurence was not allowed to see her, so Hannah had
everything her own way, and busy Dr. Bangs did his best, but left a
good deal to the excellent nurse.  Meg stayed at home, lest she
should infect the Kings, and kept house, feeling very anxious and a
little guilty when she wrote letters in which no mention was made of
Beth's illness.  She could not think it right to deceive her mother,
but she had been bidden to mind Hannah, and Hannah wouldn't hear of
'Mrs. March bein' told, and worried just for sech a trifle.'

Jo devoted herself to Beth day and night, not a hard task, for
Beth was very patient, and bore her pain uncomplainingly as long as
she could control herself.  But there came a time when during the
fever fits she began to talk in a hoarse, broken voice, to play on
the coverlet as if on her beloved little piano, and try to sing with
a throat so swollen that there was no music left, a time when she
did not know the familiar faces around her, but addressed them by
wrong names, and called imploringly for her mother.  Then Jo grew
frightened, Meg begged to be allowed to write the truth, and even
Hannah said she 'would think of it, though there was no danger
yet'.  A letter from Washington added to their trouble, for Mr.
March had had a relapse, and could not think of coming home for a
long while.

How dark the days seemed now, how sad and lonely the house,
and how heavy were the hearts of the sisters as they worked and
waited, while the shadow of death hovered over the once happy home.
Then it was that Margaret, sitting alone with tears dropping often
on her work, felt how rich she had been in things more precious
than any luxuries money could buy--in love, protection, peace, and
health, the real blessings of life.  Then it was that Jo, living in
the darkened room, with that suffering little sister always before
her eyes and that pathetic voice sounding in her ears, learned to
see the beauty and the sweetness of Beth's nature, to feel how deep
and tender a place she filled in all hearts, and to acknowledge the
worth of Beth's unselfish ambition to live for others, and make
home happy by that exercise of those simple virtues which all may
possess, and which all should love and value more than talent, wealth,
or beauty.  And Amy, in her exile, longed eagerly to be at home, that
she might work for Beth, feeling now that no service would be hard or
irksome, and remembering, with regretful grief, how many neglected
tasks those willing hands had done for her.  Laurie haunted the house
like a restless ghost, and Mr. Laurence locked the grand piano, because
he could not bear to be reminded of the young neighbor who used to
make the twilight pleasant for him.  Everyone missed Beth.  The milkman,
baker, grocer, and butcher inquired how she did, poor Mrs. Hummel
came to beg pardon for her thoughtlessness and to get a shroud
for Minna, the neighbors sent all sorts of comforts and good wishes,
and even those who knew her best were surprised to find how many
friends shy little Beth had made.

Meanwhile she lay on her bed with old Joanna at her side, for
even in her wanderings she did not forget her forlorn protege.  She
longed for her cats, but would not have them brought, lest they
should get sick, and in her quiet hours she was full of anxiety
about Jo.  She sent loving messages to Amy, bade them tell her mother
that she would write soon, and often begged for pencil and paper to
try to say a word, that Father might not think she had neglected him.
But soon even these intervals of consciousness ended, and she lay
hour after hour, tossing to and fro, with incoherent words on her
lips, or sank into a heavy sleep which brought her no refreshment.
Dr. Bangs came twice a day, Hannah sat up at night, Meg kept a
telegram in her desk all ready to send off at any minute, and Jo
never stirred from Beth's side.

The first of December was a wintry day indeed to them, for a
bitter wind blew, snow fell fast, and the year seemed getting ready
for its death.  When Dr. Bangs came that morning, he looked long at
Beth, held the hot hand in both his own for a minute, and laid it
gently down, saying, in a low voice to Hannah, "If Mrs. March can
leave her husband she'd better be sent for."

Hannah nodded without speaking, for her lips twitched nervously,
Meg dropped down into a chair as the strength seemed to go out of
her limbs at the sound of those words, and Jo, standing with a pale
face for a minute, ran to the parlor, snatched up the telegram, and
throwing on her things, rushed out into the storm.  She was soon
back, and while noiselessly taking off her cloak, Laurie came in
with a letter, saying that Mr. March was mending again.  Jo read
it thankfully, but the heavy weight did not seem lifted off her
heart, and her face was so full of misery that Laurie asked quickly,
"What is it?  Is Beth worse?"

"I've sent for Mother," said Jo, tugging at her rubber boots
with a tragic expression.

"Good for you, Jo!  Did you do it on your own responsibility?"
asked Laurie, as he seated her in the hall chair and took off the
rebellious boots, seeing how her hands shook.

"No.  The doctor told us to."

"Oh, Jo, it's not so bad as that?" cried Laurie, with a
startled face.

"Yes, it is.  She doesn't know us, she doesn't even talk about
the flocks of green doves, as she calls the vine leaves on the wall.
She doesn't look like my Beth, and there's nobody to help us bear it.
Mother and father both gone, and God seems so far away I can't find
Him."

As the tears streamed fast down poor Jo's cheeks, she stretched
out her hand in a helpless sort of way, as if groping in the dark,
and Laurie took it in his, whispering as well as he could with a
lump in his throat, "I'm here.  Hold on to me, Jo, dear!"

She could not speak, but she did 'hold on', and the warm grasp
of the friendly human hand comforted her sore heart, and seemed to
lead her nearer to the Divine arm which alone could uphold her in
her trouble.

Laurie longed to say something tender and comfortable, but no
fitting words came to him, so he stood silent, gently stroking her
bent head as her mother used to do.  It was the best thing he could
have done, far more soothing than the most eloquent words, for Jo
felt the unspoken sympathy, and in the silence learned the sweet
solace which affection administers to sorrow.  Soon she dried the
tears which had relieved her, and looked up with a grateful face.

"Thank you, Teddy, I'm better now.  I don't feel so forlorn,
and will try to bear it if it comes."

"Keep hoping for the best, that will help you, Jo.  Soon your
mother will be here, and then everything will be all right."

"I'm so glad Father is better.  Now she won't feel so bad about
leaving him.  Oh, me!  It does seem as if all the troubles came in
a heap, and I got the heaviest part on my shoulders," sighed Jo,
spreading her wet handkerchief over her knees to dry.

"Doesn't Meg pull fair?" asked Laurie, looking indignant.

"Oh, yes, she tries to, but she can't love Bethy as I do, and
she won't miss her as I shall.  Beth is my conscience, and I can't
give her up.  I can't!  I can't!"

Down went Jo's face into the wet handkerchief, and she cried
despairingly, for she had kept up bravely till now and never shed
a tear.  Laurie drew his hand across his eyes, but could not speak
till he had subdued the choky feeling in his throat and steadied his
lips.  It might be unmanly, but he couldn't help it, and I am glad
of it.  Presently, as Jo's sobs quieted, he said hopefully, "I
don't think she will die.  She's so good, and we all love her so
much, I don't believe God will take her away yet."

"The good and dear people always do die," groaned Jo, but she
stopped crying, for her friend's words cheered her up in spite of
her own doubts and fears.

"Poor girl, you're worn out.  It isn't like you to be forlorn.
Stop a bit.  I'll hearten you up in a jiffy."

Laurie went off two stairs at a time, and Jo laid her wearied
head down on Beth's little brown hood, which no one had thought of
moving from the table where she left it.  It must have possessed
some magic, for the submissive spirit of its gentle owner seemed
to enter into Jo, and when Laurie came running down with a glass
of wine, she took it with a smile, and said bravely, "I drink--
Health to my Beth!  You are a good doctor, Teddy, and such a comfortable
friend.  How can I ever pay you?" she added, as the wine
refreshed her body, as the kind words had done her troubled mind.

"I'll send my bill, by-and-by, and tonight I'll give you something
that will warm the cockles of your heart better than quarts
of wine," said Laurie, beaming at her with a face of suppressed
satisfaction at something.

"What is it?" cried Jo, forgetting her woes for a minute in her wonder.

"I telegraphed to your mother yesterday, and Brooke answered
she'd come at once, and she'll be here tonight, and everything will
be all right.  Aren't you glad I did it?"

Laurie spoke very fast, and turned red and excited all in a minute,
for he had kept his plot a secret, for fear of disappointing
the girls or harming Beth.  Jo grew quite white, flew out
of her chair, and the moment he stopped speaking she electrified him
by throwing her arms round his neck, and crying out, with a joyful
cry, "Oh, Laurie!  Oh, Mother!  I am so glad!"  She did not weep
again, but laughed hysterically, and trembled and clung to her
friend as if she was a little bewildered by the sudden news.

Laurie, though decidedly amazed, behaved with great
presence of mind.  He patted her back soothingly, and finding that
she was recovering, followed it up by a bashful kiss or two, which
brought Jo round at once.  Holding on to the banisters, she put
him gently away, saying breathlessly, "Oh, don't!  I didn't mean
to, it was dreadful of me, but you were such a dear to go and do
it in spite of Hannah that I couldn't help flying at you.  Tell
me all about it, and don't give me wine again, it makes me act so."

"I don't mind," laughed Laurie, as he settled his tie.  "Why,
you see I got fidgety, and so did Grandpa.  We thought Hannah was
overdoing the authority business, and your mother ought to know.
She'd never forgive us if Beth . . .  Well, if anything happened,
you know.  So I got grandpa to say it was high time we did something,
and off I pelted to the office yesterday, for the doctor looked sober,
and Hannah most took my head off when I proposed a telegram.  I never
can bear to be 'lorded over', so that settled my mind, and I did it.
Your mother will come, I know, and the late train is in at two A.M.
I shall go for her, and you've only got to bottle up your rapture,
and keep Beth quiet till that blessed lady gets here."

"Laurie, you're an angel!  How shall I ever thank you?"

"Fly at me again.  I rather liked it," said Laurie, looking
mischievous, a thing he had not done for a fortnight.

"No, thank you.  I'll do it by proxy, when your grandpa comes.
Don't tease, but go home and rest, for you'll be up half the night.
Bless you, Teddy, bless you!"

Jo had backed into a corner, and as she finished her speech,
she vanished precipitately into the kitchen, where she sat down
upon a dresser and told the assembled cats that she was "happy,
oh, so happy!" while Laurie departed, feeling that he had made a
rather neat thing of it.

"That's the interferingest chap I ever see, but I forgive
him and do hope Mrs. March is coming right away," said Hannah,
with an air of relief, when Jo told the good news.

Meg had a quiet rapture, and then brooded over the letter,
while Jo set the sickroom in order, and Hannah "knocked up a
couple of pies in case of company unexpected".  A breath of
fresh air seemed to blow through the house, and something better
than sunshine brightened the quiet rooms.  Everything appeared
to feel the hopeful change.  Beth's bird began to chirp again,
and a half-blown rose was discovered on Amy's bush in the window.
The fires seemed to burn with unusual cheeriness, and every time
the girls met, their pale faces broke into smiles as they hugged
one another, whispering encouragingly, "Mother's coming, dear!
Mother's coming!"  Every one rejoiced but Beth.  She lay in that
heavy stupor, alike unconscious of hope and joy, doubt and danger.
It was a piteous sight, the once rosy face so changed and vacant,
the once busy hands so weak and wasted, the once smiling lips
quite dumb, and the once pretty, well-kept hair scattered rough
and tangled on the pillow.  All day she lay so, only rousing now
and then to mutter, "Water!" with lips so parched they could
hardly shape the word.  All day Jo and Meg hovered over her,
watching, waiting, hoping, and trusting in God and Mother, and
all day the snow fell, the bitter wind raged, and the hours
dragged slowly by.  But night came at last, and every time
the clock struck, the sisters, still sitting on either side of
the bed, looked at each other with brightening eyes, for each
hour brought help nearer.  The doctor had been in to say that
some change, for better or worse, would probably take place
about midnight, at which time he would return.

Hannah, quite worn out, lay down on the sofa at the bed's
foot and fell fast asleep, Mr. Laurence marched to and fro in the
parlor, feeling that he would rather face a rebel battery than
Mrs. March's countenance as she entered.  Laurie lay on the rug,
pretending to rest, but staring into the fire with the thoughtful
look which made his black eyes beautifully soft and clear.

The girls never forgot that night, for no sleep came to them
as they kept their watch, with that dreadful sense of
powerlessness which comes to us in hours like those.

"If God spares Beth, I never will complain again," whispered
Meg earnestly.

"If god spares Beth, I'll try to love and serve Him all my
life," answered Jo, with equal fervor.

"I wish I had no heart, it aches so," sighed Meg, after a pause.

"If life is often as hard as this, I don't see how we ever
shall get through it," added her sister despondently.

Here the clock struck twelve, and both forgot themselves in
watching Beth, for they fancied a change passed over her wan face.
The house was still as death, and nothing but the wailing of the
wind broke the deep hush.  Weary Hannah slept on, and no one but
the sisters saw the pale shadow which seemed to fall upon the
little bed.  An hour went by, and nothing happened except Laurie's
quiet departure for the station.  Another hour, still no one came,
and anxious fears of delay in the storm, or accidents by the way,
or, worst of all, a great grief at Washington, haunted the girls.

It was past two, when Jo, who stood at the window thinking
how dreary the world looked in its winding sheet of snow, heard
a movement by the bed, and turning quickly, saw Meg kneeling
before their mother's easy chair with her face hidden.  A dreadful
fear passed coldly over Jo, as she thought, "Beth is dead, and Meg
is afraid to tell me."

She was back at her post in an instant, and to her excited
eyes a great change seemed to have taken place.  The fever flush
and the look of pain were gone, and the beloved little face looked
so pale and peaceful in its utter repose that Jo felt no desire to
weep or to lament.  Leaning low over this dearest of her sisters,
she kissed the damp forehead with her heart on her lips, and softly
whispered, "Goodby, my Beth.  Goodby!"

As if awaked by the stir, Hannah started out of her sleep,
hurried to the bed, looked at Beth, felt her hands, listened at
her lips, and then, throwing her apron over her head, sat down
to rock to and fro, exclaiming, under her breath, "The fever's
turned, she's sleepin' nat'ral, her skin's damp, and she breathes
easy.  Praise be given!  Oh, my goodness me!"

Before the girls could believe the happy truth, the doctor
came to confirm it.  He was a homely man, but they thought his
face quite heavenly when he smiled and said, with a fatherly look
at them, "Yes, my dears, I think the little girl will pull through
this time.  Keep the house quiet, let her sleep, and when she wakes,
give her . . ."

What they were to give, neither heard, for both crept into
the dark hall, and, sitting on the stairs, held each other close,
rejoicing with hearts too full for words.  When they went back to
be kissed and cuddled by faithful Hannah, they found Beth lying,
as she used to do, with her cheek pillowed on her hand, the
dreadful pallor gone, and breathing quietly, as if just fallen
asleep.

"If Mother would only come now!" said Jo, as the winter night
began to wane.

"See," said Meg, coming up with a white, half-opened rose,
"I thought this would hardly be ready to lay in Beth's hand
tomorrow if she--went away from us.  But it has blossomed in the
night, and now I mean to put it in my vase here, so that when
the darling wakes, the first thing she sees will be the little
rose, and Mother's face."

Never had the sun risen so beautifully, and never had the
world seemed so lovely as it did to the heavy eyes of Meg and Jo,
as they looked out in the early morning, when their long, sad
vigil was done.

"It looks like a fairy world," said Meg, smiling to herself,
as she stood behind the curtain, watching the dazzling sight.

"Hark!" cried Jo, starting to her feet.

Yes, there was a sound of bells at the door below, a cry
from Hannah, and then Laurie's voice saying in a joyful whisper,
"Girls, she's come!  She's come!"



CHAPTER NINETEEN

AMY'S WILL

While these things were happening at home, Amy was having
hard times at Aunt March's.  She felt her exile deeply, and
for the first time in her life, realized how much she was
beloved and petted at home.  Aunt March never petted any one; 
she did not approve of it, but she meant to be kind, for the
well-behaved little girl pleased her very much, and Aunt March had
a soft place in her old heart for her nephew's children, though
she didn't think it proper to confess it.  She really did her
best to make Amy happy, but, dear me, what mistakes she made.
Some old people keep young at heart in spite of wrinkles and
gray hairs, can sympathize with children's little cares and
joys, make them feel at home, and can hide wise lessons under
pleasant plays, giving and receiving friendship in the sweetest
way.  But Aunt March had not this gift, and she worried Amy very
much with her rules and orders, her prim ways, and long, prosy
talks.  Finding the child more docile and amiable than her sister,
the old lady felt it her duty to try and counteract, as far as
possible, the bad effects of home freedom and indulgence.  So she
took Amy by the hand, and taught her as she herself had been
taught sixty years ago, a process which carried dismay to Amy's
soul, and made her feel like a fly in the web of a very strict
spider.

She had to wash the cups every morning, and polish up the
old-fashioned spoons, the fat silver teapot, and the glasses till
they shone.  Then she must dust the room, and what a trying job
that was.  Not a speck escaped Aunt March's eye, and all the
furniture had claw legs and much carving, which was never dusted
to suit.  Then Polly had to be fed, the lap dog combed, and a
dozen trips upstairs and down to get things or deliver orders,
for the old lady was very lame and seldom left her big chair.  After
these tiresome labors, she must do her lessons, which was a daily
trial of every virtue she possessed.  Then she was allowed one
hour for exercise or play, and didn't she enjoy it?

Laurie came every day, and wheedled Aunt March till Amy was
allowed to go out with him, when they walked and rode and had
capital times.  After dinner, she had to read aloud, and sit still
while the old lady slept, which she usually did for an hour, as
she dropped off over the first page.  Then patchwork or towels
appeared, and Amy sewed with outward meekness and inward rebellion
till dusk, when she was allowed to amuse herself as she liked
till teatime.  The evenings were the worst of all, for Aunt March
fell to telling long stories about her youth, which were so
unutterably dull that Amy was always ready to go to bed, intending
to cry over her hard fate, but usually going to sleep before
she had squeezed out more than a tear or two.

If it had not been for Laurie, and old Esther, the maid,
she felt that she never could have got through that dreadful
time.  The parrot alone was enough to drive her distracted, for
he soon felt that she did not admire him, and revenged himself
by being as mischievous as possible.  He pulled her hair
whenever she came near him, upset his bread and milk to plague her
when she had newly cleaned his cage, made Mop bark by pecking
at him while Madam dozed, called her names before company, and
behaved in all respects like an reprehensible old bird.  Then she
could not endure the dog, a fat, cross beast who snarled and
yelped at her when she made his toilet, and who lay on his back
with all his legs in the air and a most idiotic expression of
countenance when he wanted something to eat, which was about a
dozen times a day.  The cook was bad-tempered, the old coachman
was deaf, and Esther the only one who ever took any notice of
the young lady.

Esther was a Frenchwoman, who had lived with'Madame', as
she called her mistress, for many years, and who rather
tyrannized over the old lady, who could not get along without her.
Her real name was Estelle, but Aunt March ordered her to change it,
and she obeyed, on condition that she was never asked to change
her religion.  She took a fancy to Mademoiselle, and amused her
very much with odd stories of her life in France, when Amy sat
with her while she got up Madame's laces.  She also allowed her
to roam about the great house, and examine the curious and pretty
things stored away in the big wardrobes and the ancient chests,
for Aunt March hoarded like a magpie.  Amy's chief delight was
an Indian cabinet, full of queer drawers, little pigeonholes,
and secret places, in which were kept all sorts of ornaments,
some precious, some merely curious, all more or less antique.
To examine and arrange these things gave Amy great satisfaction,
especially the jewel cases, in which on velvet cushions reposed
the ornaments which had adorned a belle forty years ago.  There
was the garnet set which Aunt March wore when she came out, the
pearls her father gave her on her wedding day, her lover's diamonds,
the jet mourning rings and pins, the queer lockets, with portraits
of dead friends and weeping willows made of hair inside, the baby
bracelets her one little daughter had worn, Uncle March's big
watch, with the red seal so many childish hands had played with,
and in a box all by itself lay Aunt March's wedding ring, too small
now for her fat finger, but put carefully away like the most
precious jewel of them all.

"Which would Mademoiselle choose if she had her will?" asked
Esther, who always sat near to watch over and lock up the valuables.

"I like the diamonds best, but there is no necklace among them,
and I'm fond of necklaces, they are so becoming.  I should choose
this if I might," replied Amy, looking with great admiration at a
string of gold and ebony beads from which hung a heavy cross of
the same.

"I, too, covet that, but not as a necklace.  Ah, no!  To me it
is a rosary, and as such I should use it like a good catholic," said
Esther, eyeing the handsome thing wistfully.

"Is it meant to use as you use the string of good-smelling
wooden beads hanging over your glass?" asked Amy.

"Truly, yes, to pray with.  It would be pleasing to the saints
if one used so fine a rosary as this, instead of wearing it as a
vain bijou."

"You seem to take a great deal of comfort in your prayers,
Esther, and always come down looking quiet and satisfied.  I wish
I could."

"If Mademoiselle was a Catholic, she would find true comfort,
but as that is not to be, it would be well if you went apart each
day to meditate and pray, as did the good mistress whom I served
before Madame.  She had a little chapel, and in it found solacement
for much trouble."

"Would it be right for me to do so too?" asked Amy, who in
her loneliness felt the need of help of some sort, and found that
she was apt to forget her little book, now that Beth was not there
to remind her of it.

"It would be excellent and charming, and I shall gladly
arrange the little dressing room for you if you like it.  Say
nothing to Madame, but when she sleeps go you and sit alone a
while to think good thoughts, and pray the dear God preserve
your sister."

Esther was truly pious, and quite sincere in her advice, for
she had an affectionate heart, and felt much for the sisters in
their anxiety.  Amy liked the idea, and gave her leave to arrange
the light closet next her room, hoping it would do her good.

"I wish I knew where all these pretty things would go when
Aunt March dies," she said, as she slowly replaced the shining
rosary and shut the jewel cases one by one.

"To you and your sisters.  I know it, Madame confides in me.
I witnessed her will, and it is to be so," whispered Esther smiling.


"How nice!  But I wish she'd let us have them now.
Procrastination is not agreeable," observed Amy, taking a last
look at the diamonds.

"It is too soon yet for the young ladies to wear these things.
The first one who is affianced will have the pearls, Madame has said
it, and I have a fancy that the little turquoise ring will be given
to you when you go, for Madame approves your good behavior and
charming manners."

"Do you think so?  Oh, I'll be a lamb, if I can only have that
lovely ring!  It's ever so much prettier than Kitty Bryant's.  I do
like Aunt March after all." And Amy tried on the blue ring with a
delighted face and a firm resolve to earn it.

From that day she was a model of obedience, and the old lady
complacently admired the success of her training.  Esther fitted
up the closet with a little table, placed a footstool before it,
and over it a picture taken from one of the shut-up rooms.  She
thought it was of no great value, but, being appropriate, she
borrowed it, well knowing that Madame would never know it, nor
care if she did.  It was, however, a very valuable copy of one of
the famous pictures of the world, and Amy's beauty-loving eyes were
never tired of looking up at the sweet face of the Divine Mother,
while her tender thoughts of her own were busy at her heart.  On
the table she laid her little testament and hymnbook, kept a vase
always full of the best flowers Laurie brought her, and came every
day to 'sit alone' thinking good thoughts, and praying the dear
God to preserve her sister.  Esther had given her a rosary of black
beads with a silver cross, but Amy hung it up and did not use it,
feeling doubtful as to its fitness for Protestant prayers.

The little girl was very sincere in all this, for being left
alone outside the safe home nest, she felt the need of some kind
hand to hold by so sorely that she instinctively turned to the
strong and tender Friend, whose fatherly love most closely
surrounds His little children.  She missed her mother's help to
understand and rule herself, but having been taught where to look,
she did her best to find the way and walk in it confidingly.  But,
Amy was a young pilgrim, and just now her burden seemed very heavy.
She tried to forget herself, to keep cheerful, and be satisfied with
doing right, though no one saw or praised her for it.  In her first
effort at being very, very good, she decided to make her will, as
Aunt March had done, so that if she did fall ill and die, her
possessions might be justly and generously divided.  It cost her a pang
even to think of giving up the little treasures which in her eyes
were as precious as the old lady's jewels.

During one of her play hours she wrote out the important
document as well as she could, with some help from Esther as
to certain legal terms, and when the good-natured Frenchwoman
had signed her name, Amy felt relieved and laid it by to show
Laurie, whom she wanted as a second witness.  As it was a rainy
day, she went upstairs to amuse herself in one of the large
chambers, and took Polly with her for company.  In this room
there was a wardrobe full of old-fashioned costumes with which
Esther allowed her to play, and it was her favorite amusement to
array herself in the faded brocades, and parade up and down before
the long mirror, making stately curtsies, and sweeping her train
about with a rustle which delighted her ears.  So busy was she on
this day that she did not hear Laurie's ring nor see his face
peeping in at her as she gravely promenaded to and fro, flirting
her fan and tossing her head, on which she wore a great pink turban,
contrasting oddly with her blue brocade dress and yellow quilted
petticoat.  She was obliged to walk carefully, for she had on
highheeled shoes, and, as Laurie told Jo afterward, it was a comical
sight to see her mince along in her gay suit, with Polly sidling
and bridling just behind her, imitating her as well as he could,
and occasionally stopping to laugh or exclaim, "Ain't we fine?
Get along, you fright!  Hold your tongue!  Kiss me, dear!  Ha! Ha!"

Having with difficulty restrained an explosion of merriment,
lest it should offend her majesty, Laurie tapped and was graciously
received.

"Sit down and rest while I put these things away, then I want
to consult you about a very serious matter," said Amy, when she
had shown her splendor and driven Polly into a corner.  "That bird
is the trial of my life," she continued, removing the pink mountain
from her head, while Laurie seated himself astride a chair.

"Yesterday, when Aunt was asleep and I was trying to be as still as a
mouse, Polly began to squall and flap about in his cage, so I went
to let him out, and found a big spider there.  I poked it out, and
it ran under the bookcase.  Polly marched straight after it, stooped
down and peeped under the bookcase, saying, in his funny way, with a
cock of his eye, 'Come out and take a walk, my dear.' I couldn't help
laughing, which made Poll swear, and Aunt woke up and scolded us both."

"Did the spider accept the old fellow's invitation?" asked Laurie, 
yawning.

"Yes, out it came, and away ran Polly, frightened to death, and
scrambled up on Aunt's chair, calling out, 'Catch her! Catch her!
Catch her!' as I chased the spider."

"That's a lie!  Oh, lor!" cried the parrot, pecking at Laurie's toes.

"I'd wring your neck if you were mine, you old torment," cried
Laurie, shaking his fist at the bird, who put his head on one side
and gravely croaked, "Allyluyer! bless your buttons, dear!"

"Now I'm ready," said Amy, shutting the wardrobe and taking a
piece of paper out of her pocket.  "I want you to read that, please,
and tell me if it is legal and right.  I felt I ought to do it, for
life is uncertain and I don't want any ill feeling over my tomb."

Laurie bit his lips, and turning a little from the pensive
speaker, read the following document, with praiseworthy gravity,
considering the spelling:

MY LAST WILL AND TESTIMENT

I, Amy Curtis March, being in my sane mind, go give and
bequeethe all my earthly property--viz.  to wit:--namely

To my father, my best pictures, sketches, maps, and works
of art, including frames.  Also my $100, to do what he likes with.

To my mother, all my clothes, except the blue apron with
pockets--also my likeness, and my medal, with much love.

To my dear sister Margaret, I give my turkquoise ring (if I
get it), also my green box with the doves on it, also my piece
of real lace for her neck, and my sketch of her as a memorial of
her 'little girl'.

To Jo I leave my breastpin, the one mended with sealing wax,
also my bronze inkstand--she lost the cover--and my most precious
plaster rabbit, because I am sorry I burned up her story.

To Beth (if she lives after me) I give my dolls and the
little bureau, my fan, my linen collars and my new slippers if
she can wear them being thin when she gets well.  And I herewith
also leave her my regret that I ever made fun of old Joanna.

To my friend and neighbor Theodore Laurence I bequeethe my
paper mashay portfolio, my clay model of a horse though he did
say it hadn't any neck.  Also in return for his great kindness
in the hour of affliction any one of my artistic works he likes,
Noter Dame is the best.

To our venerable benefactor Mr. Laurence I leave my purple
box with a looking glass in the cover which will be nice for
his pens and remind him of the departed girl who thanks him
for his favors to her family, especially Beth.

I wish my favorite playmate Kitty Bryant to have the blue
silk apron and my gold-bead ring with a kiss.

To Hannah I give the bandbox she wanted and all the patchwork
I leave hoping she 'will remember me, when it you see'.

And now having disposed of my most valuable property I hope
all will be satisfied and not blame the dead.  I forgive everyone,
and trust we may all meet when the trump shall sound.  Amen.

To this will and testiment I set my hand and seal on this
20th day of Nov.  Anni Domino 1861.

Amy Curtis March

Witnesses:

Estelle Valnor,
Theodore Laurence.


The last name was written in pencil, and Amy explained
that he was to rewrite it in ink and seal it up for her properly.

"What put it into your head?  Did anyone tell you about Beth's
giving away her things?" asked Laurie soberly, as Amy laid a bit
of red tape, with sealing wax, a taper, and a standish before him.

She explained and then asked anxiously, "What about Beth?"

"I'm sorry I spoke, but as I did, I'll tell you.  She felt so
ill one day that she told Jo she wanted to give her piano to Meg,
her cats to you, and the poor old doll to Jo, who would love it for
her sake.  She was sorry she had so little to give, and left locks
of hair to the rest of us, and her best love to Grandpa.  She never
thought of a will."

Laurie was signing and sealing as he spoke, and did not look
up till a great tear dropped on the paper.  Amy's face was full
of trouble, but she only said, "Don't people put sort of
postscripts to their wills, sometimes?"

"Yes, 'codicils', they call them."

"Put one in mine then, that I wish all my curls cut off, and
given round to my friends.  I forgot it, but I want it done though
it will spoil my looks."

Laurie added it, smiling at Amy's last and greatest sacrifice.
Then he amused her for an hour, and was much interested in all her
trials.  But when he came to go, Amy held him back to whisper with
trembling lips, "Is there really any danger about Beth?"

"I'm afraid there is, but we must hope for the best, so don't
cry, dear."  And Laurie put his arm about her with a brotherly
gesture which was very comforting.

When he had gone, she went to her little chapel, and sitting
in the twilight, prayed for Beth, with streaming tears and an
aching heart, feeling that a million turquoise rings would not
console her for the loss of her gentle little sister.



CHAPTER TWENTY

CONFIDENTIAL

I don't think I have any words in which to tell the meeting
of the mother and daughters.  Such hours are beautiful to live,
but very hard to describe, so I will leave it to the imagination
of my readers, merely saying that the house was full of genuine
happiness, and that Meg's tender hope was realized, for when Beth
woke from that long, healing sleep, the first objects on which
her eyes fell were the little rose and Mother's face.  Too weak
to wonder at anything, she only smiled and nestled close in the
loving arms about her, feeling that the hungry longing was
satisfied at last.  Then she slept again, and the girls waited upon
their mother, for she would not unclasp the thin hand which
clung to hers even in sleep.

Hannah had 'dished up' an astonishing breakfast for the
traveler, finding it impossible to vent her excitement in any
other way, and Meg and Jo fed their mother like dutiful young
storks, while they listened to her whispered account of Father's
state, Mr. Brooke's promise to stay and nurse him, the delays
which the storm occasioned on the homeward journey, and the
unspeakable comfort Laurie's hopeful face had given her when she
arrived, worn out with fatigue, anxiety, and cold.

What a strange yet pleasant day that was.  So brilliant and
gay without, for all the world seemed abroad to welcome the first
snow.  So quiet and reposeful within, for everyone slept, spent
with watching, and a Sabbath stillness reigned through the house,
while nodding Hannah mounted guard at the door.  With a blissful
sense of burdens lifted off, Meg and Jo closed their weary eyes,
and lay at rest, like storm-beaten boats safe at anchor in a
quiet harbor.  Mrs. March would not leave Beth's side, but rested
in the big chair, waking often to look at, touch, and brood over
her child, like a miser over some recovered treasure.

Laurie meanwhile posted off to comfort Amy, and told his
story so well that Aunt March actually 'sniffed' herself, and
never once said "I told you so".  Amy came out so strong on
this occasion that I think the good thoughts in the little chapel
really began to bear fruit.  She dried her tears quickly,
restrained her impatience to see her mother, and never even thought
of the turquoise ring, when the old lady heartily agreed in Laurie's
opinion, that she behaved 'like a capital little woman'.  Even
Polly seemed impressed, for he called her a good girl, blessed
her buttons, and begged her to "come and take a walk, dear", in
his most affable tone.  She would very gladly have gone out to
enjoy the bright wintry weather, but discovering that Laurie
was dropping with sleep in spite of manful efforts to conceal
the fact, she persuaded him to rest on the sofa, while she wrote
a note to her mother.  She was a long time about it, and when she
returned, he was stretched out with both arms under his head,
sound asleep, while Aunt March had pulled down the curtains and
sat doing nothing in an unusual fit of benignity.

After a while, they began to think he was not going to wake
up till night, and I'm not sure that he would, had he not been
effectually roused by Amy's cry of joy at sight of her mother.
There probably were a good many happy little girls in and about
the city that day, but it is my private opinion that Amy was the
happiest of all, when she sat in her mother's lap and told her
trials, receiving consolation and compensation in the shape of
approving smiles and fond caresses.  They were alone together
in the chapel, to which her mother did not object when its
purpose was explained to her.

"On the contrary, I like it very much, dear," looking from
the dusty rosary to the well-worn little book, and the lovely
picture with its garland of evergreen.  "It is an excellent plan
to have some place where we can go to be quiet, when things vex
or grieve us.  There are a good many hard times in this life of
ours, but we can always bear them if we ask help in the right
way.  I think my little girl is learning this."

"Yes, Mother, and when I go home I mean to have a corner
in the big closet to put my books and the copy of that picture
which I've tried to make.  The woman's face is not good, it's
too beautiful for me to draw, but the baby is done better, and
I love it very much.  I like to think He was a little child once,
for then I don't seem so far away, and that helps me."

As Amy pointed to the smiling Christ child on his Mother's
knee, Mrs. March saw something on the lifted hand that made her
smile.  She said nothing, but Amy understood the look, and after
a minute's pause, she added gravely, "I wanted to speak to you
about this, but I forgot it.  Aunt gave me the ring today.  She
called me to her and kissed me, and put it on my finger, and
said I was a credit to her, and she'd like to keep me always.
She gave that funny guard to keep the turquoise on, as it's too
big.  I'd like to wear them Mother, can I?"

"They are very pretty, but I think you're rather too young
for such ornaments, Amy," said Mrs. March, looking at the plump
little hand, with the band of sky-blue stones on the forefinger,
and the quaint guard formed of two tiny golden hands clasped
together.

"I'll try not to be vain," said Amy.  "I don't think I like
it only because it's so pretty, but I want to wear it as the girl
in the story wore her bracelet, to remind me of something."

"Do you mean Aunt March?" asked her mother, laughing.

"No, to remind me not to be selfish."  Amy looked so
earnest and sincere about it that her mother stopped laughing,
and listened respectfully to the little plan.

"I've thought a great deal lately about my 'bundle of
naughties', and being selfish is the largest one in it, so I'm
going to try hard to cure it, if I can.  Beth isn't selfish, and
that's the reason everyone loves her and feels so bad at the
thoughts of losing her.  People wouldn't feel so bad about me
if I was sick, and I don't deserve to have them, but I'd like
to be loved and missed by a great many friends, so I'm going
to try and be like Beth all I can.  I'm apt to forget my
resolutions, but if I had something always about me to remind me,
I guess I should do better.  May we try this way?"

"Yes, but I have more faith in the corner of the big closet.
Wear your ring, dear, and do your best.  I think you will prosper,
for the sincere wish to be good is half the battle.  Now I must
go back to Beth.  Keep up your heart, little daughter, and we will
soon have you home again."

That evening while Meg was writing to her father to report
the traveler's safe arrival, Jo slipped upstairs into Beth's room,
and finding her mother in her usual place, stood a minute twisting
her fingers in her hair, with a worried gesture and an undecided
look.

"What is it, deary?" asked Mrs. March, holding out her hand,
with a face which invited confidence.

"I want to tell you something, Mother."

"About Meg?"

"How quickly you guessed!  Yes, it's about her, and though
it's a little thing, it fidgets me."

"Beth is asleep.  Speak low, and tell me all about it.  That
Moffat hasn't been here, I hope?" asked Mrs. March rather sharply.

"No.  I should have shut the door in his face if he had,"
said Jo, settling herself on the floor at her mother's feet.  "Last
summer Meg left a pair of gloves over at the Laurences' and only
one was returned.  We forgot about it, till Teddy told me that Mr.
Brooke owned that he liked Meg but didn't dare say so, she was so
young and he so poor.  Now, isn't it a dreadful state of things?"

"Do you think Meg cares for him?" asked Mrs. March, with an
anxious look.

"Mercy me!  I don't know anything about love and such
nonsense!" cried Jo, with a funny mixture of interest and contempt.
"In novels, the girls show it by starting and blushing, fainting
away, growing thin, and acting like fools.  Now Meg does not do
anything of the sort.  She eats and drinks and sleeps like a
sensible creature, she looks straight in my face when I talk
about that man, and only blushes a little bit when Teddy jokes
about lovers.  I forbid him to do it, but he doesn't mind me as
he ought."

"Then you fancy that Meg is not interested in John?"

"Who?" cried Jo, staring.

"Mr. Brooke.  I call him 'John' now.  We fell into the way
of doing so at the hospital, and he likes it."

"Oh, dear!  I know you'll take his part.  He's been good to
Father, and you won't send him away, but let Meg marry him, if
she wants to.  Mean thing!  To go petting Papa and helping you,
just to wheedle you into liking him." And Jo pulled her hair
again with a wrathful tweak.

"My dear, don't get angry about it, and I will tell you how
it happened.  John went with me at Mr. Laurence's request, and
was so devoted to poor Father that we couldn't help getting fond
of him.  He was perfectly open and honorable about Meg, for he
told us he loved her, but would earn a comfortable home before
he asked her to marry him.  He only wanted our leave to love her
and work for her, and the right to make her love him if he could.
He is a truly excellent young man, and we could not refuse to
listen to him, but I will not consent to Meg's engaging herself
so young."

"Of course not.  It would be idiotic!  I knew there was
mischief brewing.  I felt it, and now it's worse than I imagined.
I just wish I could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in the
family."

This odd arrangement made Mrs. March smile, but she said
gravely, "Jo, I confide in you and don't wish you to say anything
to Meg yet.  When John comes back, and I see them together, I can
judge better of her feelings toward him."

"She'll see those handsome eyes that she talks about, and
then it will be all up with her.  She's got such a soft heart,
it will melt like butter in the sun if anyone looks sentimentlly
at her.  She read the short reports he sent more than she did
your letters, and pinched me when I spoke of it, and likes brown
eyes, and doesn't think John an ugly name, and she'll go and fall
in love, and there's an end of peace and fun, and cozy times together.
I see it all!  They'll go lovering around the house, and we shall
have to dodge.  Meg will be absorbed and no good to me any more.
Brooke will scratch up a fortune somehow, carry her off,
and make a hole in the family, and I shall break my heart, and
everything will be abominably uncomfortable.  Oh, dear me!  Why
weren't we all boys, then there wouldn't be any bother."

Jo leaned her chin on her knees in a disconsolate attitude
and shook her fist at the reprehensible John.  Mrs. March sighed,
and Jo looked up with an air of relief.

"You don't like it, Mother?  I'm glad of it.  Let's send him
about his business, and not tell Meg a word of it, but all be
happy together as we always have been."

"I did wrong to sigh, Jo.  It is natural and right you should
all go to homes of your own in time, but I do want to keep my girls
as long as I can, and I am sorry that this happened so soon, for
Meg is only seventeen and it will be some years before John can
make a home for her.  Your father and I have agreed that she shall
not bind herself in any way, nor be married, before twenty.  If
she and John love one another, they can wait, and test the love
by doing so.  She is conscientious, and I have no fear of her
treating him unkindly.  My pretty, tender hearted girl!  I hope
things will go happily with her."

"Hadn't you rather have her marry a rich man?" asked Jo, as
her mother's voice faltered a little over the last words.

"Money is a good and useful thing, Jo, and I hope my girls
will never feel the need of it too bitterly, nor be tempted by
too much.  I should like to know that John was firmly established
in some good business, which gave him an income large enough to
keep free from debt and make Meg comfortable.  I'm not ambitious
for a splendid fortune, a fashionable position, or a great name
for my girls.  If rank and money come with love and virtue, also,
I should accept them gratefully, and enjoy your good fortune, but
I know, by experience, how much genuine happiness can be had in
a plain little house, where the daily bread is earned, and some
privations give sweetness to the few pleasures.  I am content to
see Meg begin humbly, for if I am not mistaken, she will be rich
in the possession of a good man's heart, and that is better than
a fortune."

"I understand, Mother, and quite agree, but I'm disappointed
about Meg, for I'd planned to have her marry Teddy by-and-by and
sit in the lap of luxury all her days.  Wouldn't it be nice?"
asked Jo, looking up with a brighter face.

"He is younger than she, you know," began Mrs. March, but Jo
broke in . . .

"Only a little, he's old for his age, and tall, and can be
quite grown-up in his manners if he likes.  Then he's rich and
generous and good, and loves us all, and I say it's a pity my
plan is spoiled."

"I'm afraid Laurie is hardly grown-up enough for Meg, and
altogether too much of a weathercock just now for anyone to
depend on.  Don't make plans, Jo, but let time and their own
hearts mate your friends.  We can't meddle safely in such
matters, and had better not get 'romantic rubbish' as you
call it, into our heads, lest it spoil our friendship."

"Well, I won't, but I hate to see things going all crisscross
and getting snarled up, when a pull here and a snip there
would straighten it out.  I wish wearing flatirons on our heads
would keep us from growing up.  But buds will be roses, and
kittens cats, more's the pity!"

"What's that about flatirons and cats?" asked Meg, as she
crept into the room with the finished letter in her hand.

"Only one of my stupid speeches.  I'm going to bed.  Come,
Peggy," said Jo, unfolding herself like an animated puzzle.

"Quite right, and beautifully written.  Please add that I
send my love to John," said Mrs. March, as she glanced over
the letter and gave it back.

"Do you call him 'John'?" asked Meg, smiling, with her
innocent eyes looking down into her mother's.

"Yes, he has been like a son to us, and we are very fond of him,"
replied Mrs. March, returning the look with a keen one.

"I'm glad of that, he is so lonely.  Good night, Mother,
dear.  It is so inexpressibly comfortable to have you here,"
was Meg's answer.

The kiss her mother gave her was a very tender one, and
as she went away, Mrs. March said, with a mixture of satisfaction
and regret, "She does not love John yet, but will soon learn to."



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

LAURIE MAKES MISCHIEF, AND JO MAKES PEACE

Jo's face was a study next day, for the secret rather weighed
upon her, and she found it hard not to look mysterious and
important.  Meg observed it, but did not trouble herself to make
inquiries, for she had learned that the best way to manage Jo was
by the law of contraries, so she felt sure of being told everything
if she did not ask.  She was rather surprised, therefore,
when the silence remained unbroken, and Jo assumed a patronizing
air, which decidedly aggravated Meg, who in turn assumed an air
of dignified reserve and devoted herself to her mother.  This left
Jo to her own devices, for Mrs. March had taken her place as nurse,
and bade her rest, exercise, and amuse herself after her long
confinement.  Amy being gone, Laurie was her only refuge, and much
as she enjoyed his society, she rather dreaded him just then, for
he was an incorrigible tease, and she feared he would coax the
secret from her.

She was quite right, for the mischief-loving lad no sooner
suspected a mystery than he set himself to find it out, and led
Jo a trying life of it.  He wheedled, bribed, ridiculed,
threatened, and scolded; affected indifference, that he might surprise
the truth from her; declared he knew, then that he didn't care;
and at last, by dint of perseverance, he satisfied himself that
it concerned Meg and Mr. Brooke.  Feeling indignant that he was
not taken into his tutor's confidence, he set his wits to work
to devise some proper retaliation for the slight.

Meg meanwhile had apparently forgotten the matter and was
absorbed in preparations for her father's return, but all of a
sudden a change seemed to come over her, and, for a day or two,
she was quite unlike herself.  She started when spoken to,
blushed when looked at, was very quiet, and sat over her sewing,
with a timid, troubled look on her face.  To her mother's inquiries
she answered that she was quite well, and Jo's she silenced by
begging to be let alone.

"She feels it in the air--love, I mean--and she's going very
fast.  She's got most of the symptoms--is twittery and cross,
doesn't eat, lies awake, and mopes in corners.  I caught her
singing that song he gave her, and once she said 'John', as you
do, and then turned as red as a poppy.  Whatever shall we do?"
said Jo, looking ready for any measures, however violent.

"Nothing but wait.  Let her alone, be kind and patient, and
Father's coming will settle everything," replied her mother.

"Here's a note to you, Meg, all sealed up.  How odd! Teddy
never seals mine," said Jo next day, as she distributed the
contents of the little post office.

Mrs. March and Jo were deep in their own affairs, when a
sound from Meg made them look up to see her staring at her
note with a frightened face.

"My child, what is it?" cried her mother, running to her,
while Jo tried to take the paper which had done the mischief.

"It's all a mistake, he didn't send it.  Oh, Jo, how could
you do it?" and Meg hid her face in her hands, crying as if her
heart were quite broken.

"Me!  I've done nothing!  What's she talking about?" cried
Jo, bewildered.

Meg's mild eyes kindled with anger as she pulled a crumpled
note from her pocket and threw it at Jo, saying reproachfully,
"You wrote it, and that bad boy helped you.  How could you be
so rude, so mean, and cruel to us both?"

Jo hardly heard her, for she and her mother were reading the
note, which was written in a peculiar hand.


"My Dearest Margaret,

"I can no longer restrain my passion, and must know my fate
before I return.  I dare not tell your parents yet, but I think
they would consent if they knew that we adored one another.  Mr.
Laurence will help me to some good place, and then, my sweet
girl, you will make me happy.  I implore you to say nothing to
your family yet, but to send one word of hope through Laurie to,

"Your devoted John."


"Oh, the little villain!  That's the way he meant to pay me
for keeping my word to Mother.  I'll give him a hearty scolding
and bring him over to beg pardon," cried Jo, burning to execute
immediate justice.  But her mother held her back, saying, with
a look she seldom wore . . .

"Stop, Jo, you must clear yourself first.  You have played
so many pranks that I am afraid you have had a hand in this."

"On my word, Mother, I haven't!  I never saw that note
before, and don't know anything about it, as true as I live!"
said Jo, so earnestly that they believed her.  "If I had taken
part in it I'd have done it better than this, and have written
a sensible note.  I should think you'd have known Mr. Brooke
wouldn't write such stuff as that," she added, scornfully
tossing down the paper.

"It's like his writing," faltered Meg, comparing it with the
note in her hand.

"Oh, Meg, you didn't answer it?" cried Mrs. March quickly.

"Yes, I did!" and Meg hid her face again, overcome with shame.

"Here's a scrape!  Do let me bring that wicked boy over to
explain and be lectured.  I can't rest till I get hold of him."
And Jo made for the door again.

"Hush!  Let me handle this, for it is worse than I thought.
Margaret, tell me the whole story," commanded Mrs. March, sitting
down by Meg, yet keeping hold of Jo, lest she should fly off.

"I received the first letter from Laurie, who didn't look
as if he knew anything about it," began Meg, without looking up.
"I was worried at first and meant to tell you, then I remembered
how you liked Mr. Brooke, so I thought you wouldn't mind if I
kept my little secret for a few days.  I'm so silly that I liked
to think no one knew, and while I was deciding what to say, I
felt like the girls in books, who have such things to do.  Forgive
me, Mother, I'm paid for my silliness now.  I never can look him
in the face again."

"What did you say to him?" asked Mrs. March.

"I only said I was too young to do anything about it yet,
that I didn't wish to have secrets from you, and he must speak
to father.  I was very grateful for his kindness, and would be
his friend, but nothing more, for a long while."

Mrs. March smiled, as if well pleased, and Jo clapped her
hands, exclaiming, with a laugh, "You are almost equal to
Caroline Percy, who was a pattern of prudence!  Tell on, Meg.
What did he say to that?"

"He writes in a different way entirely, telling me that he
never sent any love letter at all, and is very sorry that my
roguish sister, Jo, should take liberties with our names.  It's
very kind and respectful, but think how dreadful for me!"

Meg leaned against her mother, looking the image of despair,
and Jo tramped about the room, calling Laurie names.  All of a
sudden she stopped, caught up the two notes, and after looking
at them closely, said decidedly, "I don't believe Brooke ever
saw either of these letters.  Teddy wrote both, and keeps yours
to crow over me with because I wouldn't tell him my secret."

"Don't have any secrets, Jo.  Tell it to Mother and keep
out of trouble, as I should have done," said Meg warningly.

"Bless you, child!  Mother told me."

"That will do, Jo.  I'll comfort Meg while you go and get
Laurie.  I shall sift the matter to the bottom, and put a stop
to such pranks at once."

Away ran Jo, and Mrs. March gently told Meg Mr. Brooke's
real feelings.  "Now, dear, what are your own?  Do you love him
enough to wait till he can make a home for you, or will you
keep yourself quite free for the present?"

"I've been so scared and worried, I don't want to have
anything to do with lovers for a long while, perhaps never,"
answered Meg petulantly.  "If John doesn't know anything about
this nonsense, don't tell him, and make Jo and Laurie hold their
tongues.  I won't be deceived and plagued and made a fool of.
It's a shame!"

Seeing Meg's usually gentle temper was roused and her
pride hurt by this mischievous joke, Mrs. March soothed her
by promises of entire silence and great discretion for the
future.  The instant Laurie's step was heard in the hall, Meg
fled into the study, and Mrs. March received the culprit alone.
Jo had not told him why he was wanted, fearing he wouldn't come,
but he knew the minute he saw Mrs. March's face, and stood
twirling his hat with a guilty air which convicted him at once.
Jo was dismissed, but chose to march up and down the hall like
a sentinel, having some fear that the prisoner might bolt.  The
sound of voices in the parlor rose and fell for half an hour,
but what happened during that interview the girls never knew.

When they were called in, Laurie was standing by their
mother with such a penitent face that Jo forgave him on the
spot, but did not think it wise to betray the fact.  Meg received
his humble apology, and was much comforted by the assurance that
Brooke knew nothing of the joke.

"I'll never tell him to my dying day, wild horses shan't
drag it out of me, so you'll forgive me, Meg, and I'll do
anything to show how out-and-out sorry I am," he added,
looking very much ashamed of himself.

"I'll try, but it was a very ungentlemanly thing to do, I
didn't think you could be so sly and malicious, Laurie," replied
Meg, trying to hide her maidenly confusion under a gravely
reproachful air.

"It was altogether abominable, and I don't deserve to be
spoken to for a month, but you will, though, won't you?" And
Laurie folded his hands together with such and imploring gesture,
as he spoke in his irresistibly persuasive tone, that it was
impossible to frown upon him in spite of his scandalous behavior.

Meg pardoned him, and Mrs. March's grave face relaxed, in
spite of her efforts to keep sober, when she heard him declare
that he would atone for his sins by all sorts of penances, and
abase himself like a worm before the injured damsel.

Jo stood aloof, meanwhile, trying to harden her heart
against him, and succeeding only in primming up her face into
an expression of entire disapprobation.  Laurie looked at her
once or twice, but as she showed no sign of relenting, he felt
injured, and turned his back on her till the others were done
with him, when he made her a low bow and walked off without a
word.

As soon as he had gone, she wished she had been more forgiving,
and when Meg and her mother went upstairs, she felt
lonely and longed for Teddy.  After resisting for some time,
she yielded to the impulse, and armed with a book to return,
went over to the big house.

"Is Mr. Laurence in?" asked Jo, of a housemaid, who was
coming downstairs.

"Yes, Miss, but I don't believe he's seeable just yet."

"Why not?  Is he ill?"

"La, no Miss, but he's had a scene with Mr. Laurie, who is
in one of his tantrums about something, which vexes the old
gentleman, so I dursn't go nigh him."

"Where is Laurie?"

"Shut up in his room, and he won't answer, though I've been
a-tapping.  I don't know what's to become of the dinner, for it's
ready, and there's no one to eat it."

"I'll go and see what the matter is.  I'm not afraid of either
of them."

Up went Jo, and knocked smartly on the door of Laurie's
little study.

"Stop that, or I'll open the door and make you!" called out
the young gentleman in a threatening tone.

Jo immediately knocked again.  The door flew open, and in
she bounced before Laurie could recover from his surprise.  Seeing
that he really was out of temper, Jo, who knew how to manage him,
assumed a contrite expression, and going artistically down upon
her knees, said meekly, "Please forgive me for being so cross.  I
came to make it up, and can't go away till I have."

"It's all right.  Get up, and don't be a goose, Jo," was the
cavalier reply to her petition.

"Thank you, I will.  Could I ask what's the matter?  You don't
look exactly easy in your mind."

"I've been shaken, and I won't bear it!" growled Laurie indignantly.

"Who did it?" demanded Jo.

"Grandfather.  If it had been anyone else I'd have . . ."
And the injured youth finished his sentence by an energetic
gesture of the right arm.

"That's nothing.  I often shake you, and you don't mind,"
said Jo soothingly.

"Pooh!  You're a girl, and it's fun, but I'll allow no man
to shake me!"

"I don't think anyone would care to try it, if you looked
as much like a thundercloud as you do now.  Why were you treated
so?"

"Just because I wouldn't say what your mother wanted me for.
I'd promised not to tell, and of course I wasn't going to break
my word."

"Couldn't you satisfy your grandpa in any other way?"

"No, he would have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing
but the truth.  I'd have told my part of the scrape, if I could
without bringing Meg in.  As I couldn't, I held my tongue, and
bore the scolding till the old gentleman collared me.  Then I
bolted, for fear I should forget myself."

"It wasn't nice, but he's sorry, I know, so go down and
make up.  I'll help you."

"Hanged if I do!  I'm not going to be lectured and pummelled
by everyone, just for a bit of a frolic.  I was sorry about Meg,
and begged pardon like a man, but I won't do it again,
when I wasn't in the wrong."

"He didn't know that."

"He ought to trust me, and not act as if I was a baby.  It's
no use, Jo, he's got to learn that I'm able to take care of
myself, and don't need anyone's apron string to hold on by."

"What pepper pots you are!" sighed Jo.  "How do you mean
to settle this affair?"

"Well, he ought to beg pardon, and believe me when I say I
can't tell him what the fuss's about."

"Bless you!  He won't do that."

"I won't go down till he does."

"Now, Teddy, be sensible.  Let it pass, and I'll explain
what I can.  You can't stay here, so what's the use of being
melodramatic?"

"I don't intend to stay here long, anyway.  I'll slip off and
take a journey somewhere, and when Grandpa misses me he'll come
round fast enough."

"I dare say, but you ought not to go and worry him."

"Don't preach.  I'll go to Washington and see Brooke.  It's
gay there, and I'll enjoy myself after the troubles."

"What fun you'd have!  I wish I could run off too," said
Jo, forgetting her part of mentor in lively visions of martial
life at the capital.

"Come on, then!  Why not?  You go and surprise your father,
and I'll stir up old Brooke.  It would be a glorious joke.  Let's
do it, Jo.  We'll leave a letter saying we are all right, and trot
off at once.  I've got money enough.  It will do you good, and no
harm, as you go to your father."

For a moment Jo looked as if she would agree, for wild as
the plan was, it just suited her.  She was tired of care and
confinement, longed for change, and thoughts of her father
blended temptingly with the novel charms of camps and hospitals,
liberty and fun.  Her eyes kindled as they turned wistfully
toward the window, but they fell on the old house opposite,
and she shook her head with sorrowful decision.

"If I was a boy, we'd run away together, and have a capital time,
but as I'm a miserable girl, I must be proper and stop at home.
Don't tempt me, Teddy, it's a crazy plan."

"That's the fun of it," began Laurie, who had got a willful
fit on him and was possessed to break out of bounds in some way.

"Hold your tongue!" cried Jo, covering her ears.  "'Prunes
and prisms' are my doom, and I may as well make up my mind to
it.  I came here to moralize, not to hear things that make me
skip to think of."

"I know Meg would wet-blanket such a proposal, but I
thought you had more spirit," began Laurie insinuatingly.

"Bad boy, be quiet!  Sit down and think of your own sins,
don't go making me add to mine.  If I get your grandpa to
apologize for the shaking, will you give up running away?"
asked Jo seriously.

"Yes, but you won't do it," answered Laurie, who wished
to make up, but felt that his outraged dignity must be
appeased first.

"If I can manage the young one, I can the old one," muttered Jo,
as she walked away, leaving Laurie bent over a railroad map
with his head propped up on both hands.

"Come in!" and Mr. Laurence's gruff voice sounded gruffer
than ever, as Jo tapped at his door.

"It's only me, Sir, come to return a book," she said blandly,
as she entered.

"Want any more?" asked the old gentleman, looking grim and
vexed, but trying not to show it.

"Yes, please.  I like old Sam so well, I think I'll try the
second volume," returned Jo, hoping to propitiate him by
accepting a second dose of Boswell's Johnson, as he had recommended
that lively work.

The shaggy eyebrows unbent a little as he rolled the steps
toward the shelf where the Johnsonian literature was placed.  Jo
skipped up, and sitting on the top step, affected to be searching
for her book, but was really wondering how best to introduce the
dangerous object of her visit.  Mr. Laurence seemed to suspect
that something was brewing in her mind, for after taking several
brisk turns about the room, he faced round on her, speaking so
abruptly that Rasselas tumbled face downward on the floor.

"What has that boy been about?  Don't try to shield him.  I
know he has been in mischief by the way he acted when he came
home.  I can't get a word from him, and when I threatened to
shake the truth out of him he bolted upstairs and locked himself
into his room."

"He did wrong, but we forgave him, and all promised not to
say a word to anyone," began Jo reluctantly.

"That won't do.  He shall not shelter himself behind a promise
from you softhearted girls.  If he's done anything amiss, he
shall confess, beg pardon, and be punished.  Out with it, Jo.
I won't be kept in the dark."

Mr. Laurence looked so alarming and spoke so sharply that Jo
would have gladly run away, if she could, but she was perched aloft
on the steps, and he stood at the foot, a lion in the path, so she
had to stay and brave it out.

"Indeed, Sir, I cannot tell.  Mother forbade it.  Laurie has
confessed, asked pardon, and been punished quite enough.  We don't
keep silence to shield him, but someone else, and it will make
more trouble if you interfere.  Please don't.  It was partly my
fault, but it's all right now.  So let's forget it, and talk about
the _Rambler_ or something pleasant."

"Hang the _Rambler!_  Come down and give me your word that
this harum-scarum boy of mine hasn't done anything ungrateful or
impertinent.  If he has, after all your kindness to him, I'll
thrash him with my own hands."

The threat sounded awful, but did not alarm Jo, for she knew
the irascible old gentleman would never lift a finger against his
grandson, whatever he might say to the contrary.  She obediently
descended, and made as light of the prank as she could without
betraying Meg or forgetting the truth.

"Hum . . .  ha . . .  well, if the boy held his tongue
because he promised, and not from obstinacy, I'll forgive him.
He's a stubborn fellow and hard to manage," said Mr. Laurence,
rubbing up his hair till it looked as if he had been out in a gale,
and smoothing the frown from his brow with an air of relief.

"So am I, but a kind word will govern me when all the king's
horses and all the king's men couldn't," said Jo, trying to say
a kind word for her friend, who seemed to get out of one scrape
only to fall into another.

"You think I'm not kind to him, hey?" was the sharp answer.

"Oh, dear no, Sir.  You are rather too kind sometimes, and
then just a trifle hasty when he tries your patience.  Don't you
think you are?"

Jo was determined to have it out now, and tried to look
quite placid, though she quaked a little after her bold speech.
To her great relief and surprise, the old gentleman only threw
his spectacles onto the table with a rattle and exclaimed frankly,
"You're right, girl, I am!  I love the boy, but he tries my
patience past bearing, and I know how it will end, if we go on so."

"I'll tell you, he'll run away." Jo was sorry for that speech the
minute it was made.  She meant to warn him that Laurie would not bear
much restraint, and hoped he would be more forebearing with the lad.

Mr. Laurence's ruddy face changed suddenly, and he sat down,
with a troubled glance at the picture of a handsome man, which
hung over his table.  It was Laurie's father, who had run away
in his youth, and married against the imperious old man's will.
Jo fancied he remembered and regretted the past, and she wished
she had held her tongue.

"He won't do it unless he is very much worried, and only
threatens it sometimes, when he gets tired of studying.  I often
think I should like to, especially since my hair was cut, so if
you ever miss us, you may advertise for two boys and look among
the ships bound for India."

She laughed as she spoke, and Mr. Laurence looked relieved,
evidently taking the whole as a joke.

"You hussy, how dare you talk in that way?  Where's your
respect for me, and your proper bringing up?  Bless the boys
and girls!  What torments they are, yet we can't do without
them," he said, pinching her cheeks good-humoredly.  "Go and
bring that boy down to his dinner, tell him it's all right, and
advise him not to put on tragedy airs with his grandfather.  I
won't bear it."

"He won't come, Sir.  He feels badly because you didn't believe him
when he said he couldn't tell.  I think the shaking hurt his feelings
very much."

Jo tried to look pathetic but must have failed, for Mr.
Laurence began to laugh, and she knew the day was won.

"I'm sorry for that, and ought to thank him for not shaking
me, I suppose.  What the dickens does the fellow expect?" and
the old gentleman looked a trifle ashamed of his own testiness.

"If I were you, I'd write him an apology, Sir.  He says he
won't come down till he has one, and talks about Washington, and
goes on in an absurd way.  A formal apology will make him see
how foolish he is, and bring him down quite amiable.  Try it.  He
likes fun, and this way is better than talking.  I'll carry it
up, and teach him his duty."

Mr. Laurence gave her a sharp look, and put on his spectacles,
saying slowly, "You're a sly puss, but I don't mind being
managed by you and Beth.  Here, give me a bit of paper,
and let us have done with this nonsense."

The note was written in the terms which one gentleman would
use to another after offering some deep insult.  Jo dropped a kiss
on the top of Mr. Laurence's bald head, and ran up to slip the
apology under Laurie's door, advising him through the keyhole to
be submissive, decorous, and a few other agreeable impossibilities.
Finding the door locked again, she left the note to do its work,
and was going quietly away, when the young gentleman slid down
the banisters, and waited for her at the bottom, saying, with his
most virtuous expression of countenance, "What a good fellow you
are, Jo! Did you get blown up?" he added, laughing.

"No, he was pretty mild, on the whole."

"Ah!  I got it all round.  Even you cast me off over there,
and I felt just ready to go to the deuce," he began apologetically.

"Don't talk that way, turn over a new leaf and begin again,
Teddy, my son."

"I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I
used to spoil my copybooks, and I make so many beginnings there
never will be an end," he said dolefully.

"Go and eat your dinner, you'll feel better after it.  Men
always croak when they are hungry," and Jo whisked out at the
front door after that.

"That's a 'label' on my 'sect'," answered Laurie, quoting
Amy, as he went to partake of humble pie dutifully with his
grandfather, who was quite saintly in temper and overwhelmingly
respectful in manner all the rest of the day.

Everyone thought the matter ended and the little cloud
blown over, but the mischief was done, for though others forgot
it, Meg remembered.  She never alluded to a certain person, but
she thought of him a good deal, dreamed dreams more than ever,
and once Jo, rummaging her sister's desk for stamps, found a
bit of paper scribbled over with the words, 'Mrs. John Brooke',
whereat she groaned tragically and cast it into the fire, feeling
that Laurie's prank had hastened the evil day for her.



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

PLEASANT MEADOWS

Like sunshine after a storm were the peaceful weeks which
followed.  The invalids improved rapidly, and Mr. March began
to talk of returning early in the new year.  Beth was soon able
to lie on the study sofa all day, amusing herself with the
well-beloved cats at first, and in time with doll's sewing, which had
fallen sadly behind-hand.  Her once active limbs were so stiff
and feeble that Jo took her for a daily airing about the house
in her strong arms.  Meg cheerfully blackened and burned her
white hands cooking delicate messes for 'the dear', while Amy,
a loyal slave of the ring, celebrated her return by giving away as
many of her treasures as she could prevail on her sisters to accept.

As Christmas approached, the usual mysteries began to haunt
the house, and Jo frequently convulsed the family by proposing
utterly impossible or magnificently absurd ceremonies, in honor
of this unusually merry Christmas.  Laurie was equally impracticable,
and would have had bonfires, skyrockets, and triumphal arches,
if he had had his own way.  After many skirmishes and snubbings,
the ambitious pair were considered effectually quenched
and went about with forlorn faces, which were rather belied
by explosions of laughter when the two got together.

Several days of unusually mild weather fitly ushered in a
splendid Christmas Day.  Hannah 'felt in her bones' that it was
going to be an unusually fine day, and she proved herself a
true prophetess, for everybody and everything seemed bound to
produce a grand success.  To begin with, Mr. March wrote that
he should soon be with them, then Beth felt uncommonly well
that morning, and, being dressed in her mother's gift, a soft
crimson merino wrapper, was borne in high triumph to the window
to behold the offering of Jo and Laurie.  The Unquenchables had
done their best to be worthy of the name, for like elves they
had worked by night and conjured up a comical surprise.  Out in
the garden stood a stately snow maiden, crowned with holly,
bearing a basket of fruit and flowers in one hand, a great roll
of music in the other, a perfect rainbow of an Afghan round her
chilly shoulders, and a Christmas carol issuing from her lips
on a pink paper streamer.

    THE JUNGFRAU TO BETH

    God bless you, dear Queen Bess!
    May nothing you dismay,
    But health and peace and happiness
    Be yours, this Christmas day.

    Here's fruit to feed our busy bee,
    And flowers for her nose.
    Here's music for her pianee,
    An afghan for her toes,

    A portrait of Joanna, see,
    By Raphael No. 2,
    Who laboured with great industry
    To make it fair and true.

    Accept a ribbon red, I beg,
    For Madam Purrer's tail,
    And ice cream made by lovely Peg,
    A Mont Blanc in a pail.

    Their dearest love my makers laid
    Within my breast of snow.
    Accept it, and the Alpine maid,
    From Laurie and from Jo.

How Beth laughed when she saw it, how Laurie ran up and
down to bring in the gifts, and what ridiculous speeches Jo
made as she presented them.

"I'm so full of happiness, that if Father was only here, I
couldn't hold one drop more," said Beth, quite sighing with
contentment as Jo carried her off to the study to rest after the
excitement, and to refresh herself with some of the delicious
grapes the 'Jungfrau' had sent her.

"So am I," added Jo, slapping the pocket wherein reposed
the long-desired _Undine and Sintram_.

"I'm sure I am," echoed Amy, poring over the engraved copy
of the Madonna and Child, which her mother had given her in a
pretty frame.

"Of course I am!" cried Meg, smoothing the silvery folds of
her first silk dress, for Mr. Laurence had insisted on giving it.
"How can I be otherwise?" said Mrs. March gratefully, as her
eyes went from her husband's letter to Beth's smiling face, and
her hand carressed the brooch made of gray and golden, chestnut
and dark brown hair, which the girls had just fastened on her
breast.

Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in
the delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort it is.  Half
an hour after everyone had said they were so happy they could
only hold one drop more, the drop came.  Laurie opened the parlor
door and popped his head in very quietly.  He might just as well
have turned a somersault and uttered an Indian war whoop, for his
face was so full of suppressed excitement and his voice so
treacherously joyful that everyone jumped up, though he only said,
in a queer, breathless voice, "Here's another Christmas present
for the March family."

Before the words were well out of his mouth, he was whisked
away somehow, and in his place appeared a tall man, muffled up to
the eyes, leaning on the arm of another tall man, who tried to say
something and couldn't.  Of course there was a general stampede,
and for several minutes everybody seemed to lose their wits, for
the strangest things were done, and no one said a word.

Mr. March became invisible in the embrace of four pairs of
loving arms.  Jo disgraced herself by nearly fainting away, and
had to be doctored by Laurie in the china closet.  Mr. Brooke
kissed Meg entirely by mistake, as he somewhat incoherently
explained.  And Amy, the dignified, tumbled over a stool, and never
stopping to get up, hugged and cried over her father's boots in
the most touching manner.  Mrs. March was the first to recover
herself, and held up her hand with a warning, "Hush!  Remember Beth."

But it was too late.  The study door flew open, the little
red wrapper appeared on the threshold, joy put strength into the
feeble limbs, and Beth ran straight into her father's arms.  Never
mind what happened just after that, for the full hearts overflowed,
washing away the bitterness of the past and leaving only the
sweetness of the present.

It was not at all romantic, but a hearty laugh set everybody
straight again, for Hannah was discovered behind the door, sobbing
over the fat turkey, which she had forgotten to put down when she
rushed up from the kitchen.  As the laugh subsided, Mrs. March began
to thank Mr. Brooke for his faithful care of her husband, at which
Mr. Brooke suddenly remembered that Mr. March needed rest, and
seizing Laurie, he precipitately retired.  Then the two invalids
were ordered to repose, which they did, by both sitting in one
big chair and talking hard.

Mr. March told how he had longed to surprise them, and how,
when the fine weather came, he had been allowed by his doctor to
take advantage of it, how devoted Brooke had been, and how he was
altogether a most estimable and upright young man.  Why Mr. March
paused a minute just there, and after a glance at Meg, who was
violently poking the fire, looked at his wife with an inquiring
lift of the eyebrows, I leave you to imagine.  Also why Mrs.
March gently nodded her head and asked, rather abruptly, if he
wouldn't like to have something to eat.  Jo saw and understood
the look, and she stalked grimly away to get wine and beef tea,
muttering to herself as she slammed the door, "I hate estimable
young men with brown eyes!"

There never was such a Christmas dinner as they had that day.
The fat turkey was a sight to behold, when Hannah sent him up,
stuffed, browned, and decorated.  So was the plum pudding, which
melted in one's mouth, likewise the jellies, in which Amy reveled
like a fly in a honeypot.  Everything turned out well, which was
a mercy, Hannah said, "For my mind was that flustered, Mum, that
it's a merrycle I didn't roast the pudding, and stuff the turkey
with raisins, let alone bilin' of it in a cloth."

Mr. Laurence and his grandson dined with them, also Mr.
Brooke, at whom Jo glowered darkly, to Laurie's infinite amusement.
Two easy chairs stood side by side at the head of the table, in
which sat Beth and her father, feasting modestly on chicken and a
little fruit.  They drank healths, told stories, sang songs,
'reminisced', as the old folks say, and had a thoroughly good time.
A sleigh ride had been planned, but the girls would not leave their
father, so the guests departed early, and as twilight gathered, the
happy family sat together round the fire.

"Just a year ago we were groaning over the dismal Christmas we
expected to have.  Do you remember?" asked Jo, breaking a short
pause which had followed a long conversation about many things.

"Rather a pleasant year on the whole!" said Meg, smiling at
the fire, and congratulating herself on having treated Mr. Brooke
with dignity.

"I think it's been a pretty hard one," observed Amy, watching
the light shine on her ring with thoughtful eyes.

"I'm glad it's over, because we've got you back," whispered
Beth, who sat on her father's knee.

"Rather a rough road for you to travel, my little pilgrims,
especially the latter part of it.  But you have got on bravely,
and I think the burdens are in a fair way to tumble off very soon,"
said Mr. March, looking with fatherly satisfaction at the four
young faces gathered round him.

"How do you know?  Did Mother tell you?" asked Jo.

"Not much.  Straws show which way the wind blows, and I've
made several discoveries today."

"Oh, tell us what they are!" cried Meg, who sat beside him.

"Here is one." And taking up the hand which lay on the arm
of his chair, he pointed to the roughened forefinger, a burn on
the back, and two or three little hard spots on the palm.  "I
remember a time when this hand was white and smooth, and your
first care was to keep it so.  It was very pretty then, but to
me it is much prettier now, for in this seeming blemishes I read
a little history.  A burnt offering has been made to vanity, this
hardened palm has earned something better than blisters, and I'm
sure the sewing done by these pricked fingers will last a long
time, so much good will went into the stitches.  Meg, my dear,
I value the womanly skill which keeps home happy more than white
hands or fashionable accomplishments.  I'm proud to shake this
good, industrious little hand, and hope I shall not soon be
asked to give it away."

If Meg had wanted a reward for hours of patient labor, she
received it in the hearty pressure of her father's hand and the
approving smile he gave her.

"What about Jo?  Please say something nice, for she has tried
so hard and been so very, very good to me," said Beth in her
father's ear.

He laughed and looked across at the tall girl who sat opposite,
with an unusually mild expression in her face.

"In spite of the curly crop, I don't see the 'son Jo' whom I
left a year ago," said Mr. March.  "I see a young lady who pins
her collar straight, laces her boots neatly, and neither whistles,
talks slang, nor lies on the rug as she used to do.  Her face is
rather thin and pale just now, with watching and anxiety, but I
like to look at it, for it has grown gentler, and her voice is
lower.  She doesn't bounce, but moves quietly, and takes care of
a certain little person in a motherly way which delights me.  I
rather miss my wild girl, but if I get a strong, helpful,
tenderhearted woman in her place, I shall feel quite satisfied.
I don't know whether the shearing sobered our black sheep, but I do
know that in all Washington I couldn't find anything beautiful enough
to be bought with the five-and-twenty dollars my good girl sent me."

Jo's keen eyes were rather dim for a minute, and her thin
face grew rosy in the firelight as she received her father's praise,
feeling that she did deserve a portion of it.

"Now, Beth," said Amy, longing for her turn, but ready to wait.

"There's so little of her, I'm afraid to say much, for fear
she will slip away altogether, though she is not so shy as she used
to be," began their father cheerfully.  But recollecting how nearly
he had lost her, he held her close, saying tenderly, with her cheek
against his own, "I've got you safe, my Beth, and I'll keep you so,
please God."

After a minute's silence, he looked down at Amy, who sat on
the cricket at his feet, and said, with a caress of the shining
hair . . .

"I observed that Amy took drumsticks at dinner, ran errands
for her mother all the afternoon, gave Meg her place tonight, and
has waited on every one with patience and good humor.  I also
observe that she does not fret much nor look in the glass, and has
not even mentioned a very pretty ring which she wears, so I
conclude that she has learned to think of other people more and of
herself less, and has decided to try and mold her character as
carefully as she molds her little clay figures.  I am glad of
this, for though I should be very proud of a graceful statue made
by her, I shall be infinitely prouder of a lovable daughter with
a talent for making life beautiful to herself and others."

"What are you thinking of, Beth?" asked Jo, when Amy had
thanked her father and told about her ring.

"I read in _Pilgrim's Progress_ today how, after many troubles,
Christian and Hopeful came to a pleasant green meadow where lilies
bloomed all year round, and there they rested happily, as we do
now, before they went on to their journey's end," answered Beth,
adding, as she slipped out of her father's arms and went to the
instrument, "It's singing time now, and I want to be in my old
place.  I'll try to sing the song of the shepherd boy which the
Pilgrims heard.  I made the music for Father, because he likes
the verses."

So, sitting at the dear little piano, Beth softly touched the
keys, and in the sweet voice they had never thought to hear again,
sang to her own accompaniment the quaint hymn, which was a
singularly fitting song for her.


    He that is down need fear no fall,
    He that is low no pride.
    He that is humble ever shall
    Have God to be his guide.

    I am content with what I have,
    Little be it, or much.
    And, Lord!  Contentment still I crave,
    Because Thou savest such.

    Fulness to them a burden is,
    That go on pilgrimage.
    Here little, and hereafter bliss,
    Is best from age to age!



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

AUNT MARCH SETTLES THE QUESTION

Like bees swarming after their queen, mother and daughters
hovered about Mr. March the next day, neglecting everything to
look at, wait upon, and listen to the new invalid, who was in a
fair way to be killed by kindness.  As he sat propped up in a
big chair by Beth's sofa, with the other three close by, and
Hannah popping in her head now and then 'to peek at the dear
man', nothing seemed needed to complete their happiness.  But
something was needed, and the elder ones felt it, though none
confessed the fact.  Mr. and Mrs. March looked at one another
with an anxious expression, as their eyes followed Meg.  Jo
had sudden fits of sobriety, and was seen to shake her fist at
Mr. Brooke's umbrella, which had been left in the hall.  Meg
was absent-minded, shy, and silent, started when the bell rang,
and colored when John's name was mentioned.  Amy said,
"Everyone seemed waiting for something, and couldn't settle down,
which was queer, since Father was safe at home," and Beth innocently
wondered why their neighbors didn't run over as usual.

Laurie went by in the afternoon, and seeing Meg at the window,
seemed suddenly possessed with a melodramatic fit, for he fell
down on one knee in the snow, beat his breast, tore his hair,
and clasped his hands imploringly, as if begging some boon.
And when Meg told him to behave himself and go away, he wrung
imaginary tears out of his handkerchief, and staggered round the
corner as if in utter despair.

"What does the goose mean?" said Meg, laughing and trying to
look unconscious.

"He's showing you how your John will go on by-and-by.
Touching, isn't it?" answered Jo scornfully.

"Don't say my John, it isn't proper or true," but Meg's voice
lingered over the words as if they sounded pleasant to her.  "Please
don't plague me, Jo, I've told you I don't care much about him, and
there isn't to be anything said, but we are all to be friendly, and
go on as before."

"We can't, for something has been said, and Laurie's mischief
has spoiled you for me.  I see it, and so does Mother.  You are not
like your old self a bit, and seem ever so far away from me.  I
don't mean to plague you and will bear it like a man, but I do wish
it was all settled.  I hate to wait, so if you mean ever to do it,
make haste and have it over quickly," said Jo pettishly.

"I can't say anything till he speaks, and he won't, because
Father said I was too young," began Meg, bending over her work
with a queer little smile, which suggested that she did not quite
agree with her father on that point.

"If he did speak, you wouldn't know what to say, but would
cry or blush, or let him have his own way, instead of giving a
good, decided no."

"I'm not so silly and weak as you think.  I know just what
I should say, for I've planned it all, so I needn't be taken
unawares.  There's no knowing what may happen, and I wished to
be prepared."

Jo couldn't help smiling at the important air which Meg had
unconsciously assumed and which was as becoming as the pretty
color varying in her cheeks.

"Would you mind telling me what you'd say?" asked Jo more
respectfully.

"Not at all.  You are sixteen now, quite old enough to be
my confident, and my experience will be useful to you by-and-by,
perhaps, in your own affairs of this sort."

"Don't mean to have any.  It's fun to watch other people
philander, but I should feel like a fool doing it myself," said
Jo, looking alarmed at the thought.

"I think not, if you liked anyone very much, and he liked
you."  Meg spoke as if to herself, and glanced out at the lane
where she had often seen lovers walking together in the summer
twilight.

"I thought you were going to tell your speech to that man,"
said Jo, rudely shortening her sister's little reverie.

"Oh, I should merely say, quite calmly and decidedly, 'Thank
you, Mr. Brooke, you are very kind, but I agree with Father that
I am too young to enter into any engagement at present, so please
say no more, but let us be friends as we were.'"

"Hum, that's stiff and cool enough!  I don't believe you'll
ever say it, and I know he won't be satisfied if you do.  If he
goes on like the rejected lovers in books, you'll give in, rather
than hurt his feelings."

"No, I won't.  I shall tell him I've made up my mind, and
shall walk out of the room with dignity."

Meg rose as she spoke, and was just going to rehearse the
dignified exit, when a step in the hall made her fly into her
seat and begin to sew as fast as if her life depended on finishing
that particular seam in a given time.  Jo smothered a laugh
at the sudden change, and when someone gave a modest tap, opened
the door with a grim aspect which was anything but hospitable.

"Good afternoon.  I came to get my umbrella, that is, to see
how your father finds himself today," said Mr. Brooke, getting a
trifle confused as his eyes went from one telltale face to the other.

"It's very well, he's in the rack.  I'll get him, and tell it
you are here."  And having jumbled her father and the umbrella well
together in her reply, Jo slipped out of the room to give Meg a
chance to make her speech and air her dignity.  But the instant she
vanished, Meg began to sidle toward the door, murmuring . . .

"Mother will like to see you.  Pray sit down, I'll call her."

"Don't go.  Are you afraid of me, Margaret?" and Mr. Brooke
looked so hurt that Meg thought she must have done something very
rude.  She blushed up to the little curls on her forehead, for he
had never called her Margaret before, and she was surprised to
find how natural and sweet it seemed to hear him say it.  Anxious
to appear friendly and at her ease, she put out her hand with a
confiding gesture, and said gratefully . . .

"How can I be afraid when you have been so kind to Father?
I only wish I could thank you for it."

"Shall I tell you how?" asked Mr. Brooke, holding the small
hand fast in both his own, and looking down at Meg with so much
love in the brown eyes that her heart began to flutter, and she
both longed to run away and to stop and listen.

"Oh no, please don't, I'd rather not," she said, trying to
withdraw her hand, and looking frightened in spite of her denial.

"I won't trouble you.  I only want to know if you care for
me a little, Meg.  I love you so much, dear," added Mr. Brooke
tenderly.

This was the moment for the calm, proper speech, but Meg
didn't make it.  She forgot every word of it, hung her head, and
answered, "I don't know," so softly that John had to stoop down
to catch the foolish little reply.

He seemed to think it was worth the trouble, for he smiled
to himself as if quite satisfied, pressed the plump hand
gratefully, and said in his most persuasive tone, "Will you try and
find out?  I want to know so much, for I can't go to work with
any heart until I learn whether I am to have my reward in the end
or not."

"I'm too young," faltered Meg, wondering why she was so
fluttered, yet rather enjoying it.

"I'll wait, and in the meantime, you could be learning to
like me.  Would it be a very hard lesson, dear?"

"Not if I chose to learn it, but. . ."

"Please choose to learn, Meg.  I love to teach, and this
is easier than German," broke in John, getting possession of the
other hand, so that she had no way of hiding her face as he bent
to look into it.

His tone was properly beseeching, but stealing a shy look
at him, Meg saw that his eyes were merry as well as tender, and
that he wore the satisfied smile of one who had no doubt of his
success.  This nettled her.  Annie Moffat's foolish lessons in
coquetry came into her mind, and the love of power, which sleeps
in the bosoms of the best of little women, woke up all of a
sudden and took possession of her.  She felt excited and
strange, and not knowing what else to do, followed a
capricious impulse, and, withdrawing her hands, said petulantly,
"I don't choose.  Please go away and let me be!"

Poor Mr. Brooke looked as if his lovely castle in the air
was tumbling about his ears, for he had never seen Meg in such
a mood before, and it rather bewildered him.

"Do you really mean that?" he asked anxiously, following
her as she walked away.

"Yes, I do.  I don't want to be worried about such things.
Father says I needn't, it's too soon and I'd rather not."

"Mayn't I hope you'll change your mind by-and-by?  I'll
wait and say nothing till you have had more time.  Don't play
with me, Meg.  I didn't think that of you."

"Don't think of me at all.  I'd rather you wouldn't," said
Meg, taking a naughty satisfaction in trying her lover's patience
and her own power.

He was grave and pale now, and looked decidedly more like
the novel heroes whom she admired, but he neither slapped his
forehead nor tramped about the room as they did.  He just stood
looking at her so wistfully, so tenderly, that she found her
heart relenting in spite of herself.  What would have happened
next I cannot say, if Aunt March had not come hobbling in at
this interesting minute.

The old lady couldn't resist her longing to see her nephew,
for she had met Laurie as she took her airing, and hearing of
Mr. March's arrival, drove straight out to see him.  The family
were all busy in the back part of the house, and she had made
her way quietly in, hoping to surprise them.  She did surprise
two of them so much that Meg started as if she had seen a
ghost, and Mr. Brooke vanished into the study.

"Bless me, what's all this?" cried the old lady with a rap
of her cane as she glanced from the pale young gentleman to the
scarlet young lady.

"It's Father's friend.  I'm so surprised to see you!" stammered Meg,
feeling that she was in for a lecture now.

"That's evident," returned Aunt March, sitting down.  "But
what is Father's friend saying to make you look like a peony?
There's mischief going on, and I insist upon knowing what it
is," with another rap.

"We were only talking.  Mr. Brooke came for his umbrella,"
began Meg, wishing that Mr. Brooke and the umbrella were safely
out of the house.

"Brooke?  That boy's tutor?  Ah! I understand now.  I know
all about it.  Jo blundered into a wrong message in one of your
Father's letters, and I made her tell me.  You haven't gone and
accepted him, child?" cried Aunt March, looking scandalized.

"Hush! He'll hear.  Shan't I call Mother?" said Meg, much
troubled.

"Not yet.  I've something to say to you, and I must free my
mind at once.  Tell me, do you mean to marry this Cook?  If you
do, not one penny of my money ever goes to you.  Remember that,
and be a sensible girl," said the old lady impressively.

Now Aunt March possessed in perfection the art of rousing
the spirit of opposition in the gentlest people, and enjoyed
doing it.  The best of us have a spice of perversity in us,
especially when we are young and in love.  If Aunt March had
begged Meg to accept John Brooke, she would probably have
declared she couldn't think of it, but as she was preemptorily
ordered not to like him, she immediately made up her mind that
she would.  Inclination as well as perversity made the decision
easy, and being already much excited, Meg opposed the old lady
with unusual spirit.

"I shall marry whom I please, Aunt March, and you can
leave your money to anyone you like," she said, nodding her
head with a resolute air.

"Highty-tighty!  Is that the way you take my advice, Miss?
You'll be sorry for it by-and-by, when you've tried love in a
cottage and found it a failure."

"It can't be a worse one than some people find in big
houses," retorted Meg.

Aunt March put on her glasses and took a look at the girl,
for she did not know her in this new mood.  Meg hardly knew
herself, she felt so brave and independent, so glad to defend
John and assert her right to love him, if she liked.  Aunt March
saw that she had begun wrong, and after a little pause, made a
fresh start, saying as mildly as she could, "Now, Meg, my dear,
be reasonable and take my advice.  I mean it kindly, and don't
want you to spoil your whole life by making a mistake at the
beginning.  You ought to marry well and help your family.  It's
your duty to make a rich match and it ought to be impressed
upon you."

"Father and Mother don't think so.  They like John though
he is poor."

"Your parents, my dear, have no more worldly wisdom than a
pair of babies."

"I'm glad of it," cried Meg stoutly.

Aunt March took no notice, but went on with her lecture. "This 
Rook is poor and hasn't got any rich relations, has he?"

"No, but he has many warm friends."

"You can't live on friends, try it and see how cool they'll
grow.  He hasn't any business, has he?"

"Not yet.  Mr. Laurence is going to help him."

"That won't last long.  James Laurence is a crotchety old
fellow and not to be depended on.  So you intend to marry a man
without money, position, or business, and go on working harder
than you do now, when you might be comfortable all your days
by minding me and doing better?  I thought you had more sense,
Meg."

"I couldn't do better if I waited half my life!  John is
good and wise, he's got heaps of talent, he's willing to work
and sure to get on, he's so energetic and brave.  Everyone likes
and respects him, and I'm proud to think he cares for me, though
I'm so poor and young and silly," said Meg, looking prettier than
ever in her earnestness.

"He knows you have got rich relations, child.  That's the
secret of his liking, I suspect."

"Aunt March, how dare you say such a thing?  John is above
such meanness, and I won't listen to you a minute if you talk so,"
cried Meg indignantly, forgetting everything but the injustice of
the old lady's suspicions.  "My John wouldn't marry for money, any
more than I would.  We are willing to work and we mean to wait.  I'm
not afraid of being poor, for I've been happy so far, and I know I
shall be with him because he loves me, and I . . ."

Meg stopped there, remembering all of a sudden that she hadn't
made up her mind, that she had told 'her John' to go away, and that
he might be overhearing her inconsistent remarks.

Aunt March was very angry, for she had set her heart on having
her pretty niece make a fine match, and something in the girl's
happy young face made the lonely old woman feel both sad and sour.

"Well, I wash my hands of the whole affair!  You are a willful
child, and you've lost more than you know by this piece of folly.
No, I won't stop.  I'm disappointed in you, and haven't spirits to
see your father now.  Don't expect anything from me when you are
married.  Your Mr. Brooke's friends must take care of you.  I'm done
with you forever."

And slamming the door in Meg's face, Aunt March drove off in
high dudgeon.  She seemed to take all the girl's courage with her,
for when left alone, Meg stood for a moment, undecided whether to
laugh or cry.  Before she could make up her mind, she was taken
possession of by Mr. Brooke, who said all in one breath, "I couldn't
help hearing, Meg.  Thank you for defending me, and Aunt March for
proving that you do care for me a little bit."

"I didn't know how much till she abused you," began Meg.

"And I needn't go away, but may stay and be happy, may I, dear?"

Here was another fine chance to make the crushing speech
and the stately exit, but Meg never thought of doing either,
and disgraced herself forever in Jo's eyes by meekly whispering,
"Yes,  John," and hiding her face on Mr. Brooke's waistcoat.

Fifteen minutes after Aunt March's departure, Jo came softly
downstairs, paused an instant at the parlor door, and hearing no
sound within, nodded and smiled with a satisfied expression, saying
to herself, "She has seen him away as we planned, and that affair
is settled.  I'll go and hear the fun, and have a good laugh over it."

But poor Jo never got her laugh, for she was transfixed upon
the threshold by a spectacle which held her there, staring with
her mouth nearly as wide open as her eyes.  Going in to exult over
a fallen enemy and to praise a strong-minded sister for the
banishment of an objectionable lover, it certainly was a shock
to behold the aforesaid enemy serenely sitting on the sofa, with the
strongminded sister enthroned upon his knee and wearing an expression 
of the most abject submission.  Jo gave a sort of gasp, as if a cold
shower bath had suddenly fallen upon her, for such an unexpected
turning of the tables actually took her breath away.  At the odd
sound the lovers turned and saw her.  Meg jumped up, looking both
proud and shy, but 'that man', as Jo called him, actually laughed
and said coolly, as he kissed the astonished newcomer, "Sister Jo,
congratulate us!"

That was adding insult to injury, it was altogether too much,
and making some wild demonstration with her hands, Jo vanished
without a word.  Rushing upstairs, she startled the invalids by
exclaiming tragically as she burst into the room, "Oh, do somebody
go down quick!  John Brooke is acting dreadfully, and Meg likes it!"

Mr. and Mrs. March left the room with speed, and casting herself
upon the bed, Jo cried and scolded tempestuously as she told the awful
news to Beth and Amy.  The little girls, however, considered it a
most agreeable and interesting event, and Jo got little comfort from
them, so she went up to her refuge in the garret, and confided her
troubles to the rats.

Nobody ever knew what went on in the parlor that afternoon, but
a great deal of talking was done, and quiet Mr. Brooke astonished his
friends by the eloquence and spirit with which he pleaded his suit,
told his plans, and persuaded them to arrange everything just as he
wanted it.

The tea bell rang before he had finished describing the paradise
which he meant to earn for Meg, and he proudly took her in to supper,
both looking so happy that Jo hadn't the heart to be jealous or dismal.
Amy was very much impressed by John's devotion and Meg's dignity, Beth
beamed at them from a distance, while Mr. and Mrs. March surveyed the
young couple with such tender satisfaction that it was perfectly
evident Aunt March was right in calling them as 'unworldly as a pair
of babies'.  No one ate much, but everyone looked very happy, and the
old room seemed to brighten up amazingly when the first romance of
the family began there.

"You can't say nothing pleasant ever happens now, can you, Meg?"
said Amy, trying to decide how she would group the lovers in a sketch
she was planning to make.

"No, I'm sure I can't.  How much has happened since I said that!
It seems a year ago," answered Meg, who was in a blissful dream
lifted far above such common things as bread and butter.

"The joys come close upon the sorrows this time, and I rather
think the changes have begun," said Mrs. March.  "In most families
there comes, now and then, a year full of events.  This has been such
a one, but it ends well, after all."

"Hope the next will end better," muttered Jo, who found it very
hard to see Meg absorbed in a stranger before her face, for Jo loved
a few persons very dearly and dreaded to have their affection lost
or lessened in any way.

"I hope the third year from this will end better.  I mean it
shall, if I live to work out my plans," said Mr. Brooke, smiling at
Meg, as if everything had become possible to him now.

"Doesn't it seem very long to wait?" asked Amy, who was in a
hurry for the wedding.

"I've got so much to learn before I shall be ready, it seems
a short time to me," answered Meg, with a sweet gravity in her face
never seen there before.

"You have only to wait, I am to do the work," said John beginning
his labors by picking up Meg's napkin, with an expression which
caused Jo to shake her head, and then say to herself with an air
of relief as the front door banged, "Here comes Laurie.  Now we
shall have some sensible conversation."

But Jo was mistaken, for Laurie came prancing in, overflowing
with good spirits, bearing a great bridal-looking bouquet for 'Mrs.
John Brooke', and evidently laboring under the delusion that the
whole affair had been brought about by his excellent management.

"I knew Brooke would have it all his own way, he always does,
for when he makes up his mind to accomplish anything, it's done
though the sky falls," said Laurie, when he had presented his
offering and his congratulations.

"Much obliged for that recommendation.  I take it as a good
omen for the future and invite you to my wedding on the spot,"
answered Mr. Brooke, who felt at peace with all mankind, even his
mischievous pupil.

"I'll come if I'm at the ends of the earth, for the sight of
Jo's face alone on that occasion would be worth a long journey.
You don't look festive, ma'am, what's the matter?" asked Laurie,
following her into a corner of the parlor, whither all had adjourned
to greet Mr. Laurence.

"I don't approve of the match, but I've made up my mind to bear
it, and shall not say a word against it," said Jo solemnly.  "You
can't know how hard it is for me to give up Meg," she continued
with a little quiver in her voice.

"You don't give her up.  You only go halves," said Laurie
consolingly.

"It can never be the same again.  I've lost my dearest friend,"
sighed Jo.

"You've got me, anyhow.  I'm not good for much, I know, but
I'll stand by you, Jo, all the days of my life.  Upon my word I will!" 
and Laurie meant what he said.

"I know you will, and I'm ever so much obliged.  You are always
a great comfort to me, Teddy," returned Jo, gratefully shaking hands.

"Well, now, don't be dismal, there's a good fellow.  It's all
right you see.  Meg is happy, Brooke will fly round and get settled
immediately, Grandpa will attend to him, and it will be very jolly
to see Meg in her own little house.  We'll have capital times after
she is gone, for I shall be through college before long, and then
we'll go abroad on some nice trip or other.  Wouldn't that console 
you?"

"I rather think it would, but there's no knowing what may happen
in three years," said Jo thoughtfully.

"That's true.  Don't you wish you could take a look forward and
see where we shall all be then?  I do," returned Laurie.

"I think not, for I might see something sad, and everyone looks
so happy now, I don't believe they could be much improved." And Jo's
eyes went slowly round the room, brightening as they looked, for the
prospect was a pleasant one.

Father and Mother sat together, quietly reliving the first
chapter of the romance which for them began some twenty years ago.
Amy was drawing the lovers, who sat apart in a beautiful world of
their own, the light of which touched their faces with a grace the
little artist could not copy.  Beth lay on her sofa, talking cheerily
with her old friend, who held her little hand as if he felt that it
possessed the power to lead him along the peaceful way she walked.
Jo lounged in her favorite low seat, with the grave quiet look which
best became her, and Laurie, leaning on the back of her chair, his
chin on a level with her curly head, smiled with his friendliest
aspect, and nodded at her in the long glass which reflected them both.


So the curtain falls upon Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.  Whether it
ever rises again, depends upon the reception given the first act of
the domestic drama called _Little Women_.







LITTLE WOMEN PART 2

In order that we may start afresh and go to Meg's wedding . . .



CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

GOSSIP

In order that we may start afresh and go to Meg's wedding
with free minds, it will be well to begin with a little gossip
about the Marches.  And here let me premise that if any of the
elders think there is too much 'lovering' in the story, as I fear
they may (I'm not afraid the young folks will make that objection),
I can only say with Mrs. March, "What can you expect when I have
four gay girls in the house, and a dashing young neighbor over the
way?"

The three years that have passed have brought but few changes
to the quiet family.  The war is over, and Mr. March safely at
home, busy with his books and the small parish which found in him
a minister by nature as by grace, a quiet, studious man, rich in
the wisdom that is better than learning, the charity which calls
all mankind 'brother', the piety that blossoms into character,
making it august and lovely.

These attributes, in spite of poverty and the strict integrity
which shut him out from the more worldly successes, attracted to
him many admirable persons, as naturally as sweet herbs draw bees,
and as naturally he gave them the honey into which fifty years of
hard experience had distilled no bitter drop.  Earnest young men
found the gray-headed scholar as young at heart as they; thoughtful
or troubled women instinctively brought their doubts to him, sure
of finding the gentlest sympathy, the wisest counsel.  Sinners told
their sins to the pure-hearted old man and were both rebuked and
saved.  Gifted men found a companion in him.  Ambitious men caught
glimpses of nobler ambitions than their own, and even worldlings
confessed that his beliefs were beautiful and true, although 'they
wouldn't pay'.

To outsiders the five energetic women seemed to rule the house,
and so they did in many things, but the quiet scholar, sitting among
his books, was still the head of the family, the household conscience,
anchor, and comforter, for to him the busy, anxious women always
turned in troublous times, finding him, in the truest sense of those
sacred words, husband and father.

The girls gave their hearts into their mother's keeping, their
souls into their father's, and to both parents, who lived and labored
so faithfully for them, they gave a love that grew with their growth
and bound them tenderly together by the sweetest tie which blesses
life and outlives death.

Mrs. March is as brisk and cheery, though rather grayer, than
when we saw her last, and just now so absorbed in Meg's affairs that
the hospitals and homes still full of wounded 'boys' and soldiers'
widows, decidedly miss the motherly missionary's visits.

John Brooke did his duty manfully for a year, got wounded, was
sent home, and not allowed to return.  He received no stars or bars,
but he deserved them, for he cheerfully risked all he had, and life
and love are very precious when both are in full bloom.  Perfectly
resigned to his discharge, he devoted himself to getting well,
preparing for business, and earning a home for Meg.  With the good
sense and sturdy independence that characterized him, he refused
Mr. Laurence's more generous offers, and accepted the place of
bookkeeper, feeling better satisfied to begin with an honestly earned
salary than by running any risks with borrowed money.

Meg had spent the time in working as well as waiting, growing
womanly in character, wise in housewifely arts, and prettier than
ever, for love is a great beautifier.  She had her girlish ambitions
and hopes, and felt some disappointment at the humble way in which
the new life must begin.  Ned Moffat had just married Sallie Gardiner,
and Meg couldn't help contrasting their fine house and carriage,
many gifts, and splendid outfit with her own, and secretly wishing
she could have the same.  But somehow envy and discontent soon
vanished when she thought of all the patient love and labor John had
put into the little home awaiting her, and when they sat together in
the twilight, talking over their small plans, the future always grew
so beautiful and bright that she forgot Sallie's splendor and felt
herself the richest, happiest girl in Christendom.

Jo never went back to Aunt March, for the old lady took such
a fancy to Amy that she bribed her with the offer of drawing lessons
from one of the best teachers going, and for the sake of this
advantage, Amy would have served a far harder mistress.  So she gave 
her mornings to duty, her afternoons to pleasure, and prospered finely.
Jo meantime devoted herself to literature and Beth, who remained
delicate long after the fever was a thing of the past.  Not an
invalid exactly, but never again the rosy, healthy creature she had
been, yet always hopeful, happy, and serene, and busy with the quiet
duties she loved, everyone's friend, and an angel in the house, long
before those who loved her most had learned to know it.

As long as _The Spread Eagle_ paid her a dollar a column for her
'rubbish', as she called it, Jo felt herself a woman of means, and
spun her little romances diligently.  But great plans fermented in
her busy brain and ambitious mind, and the old tin kitchen in the
garret held a slowly increasing pile of blotted manuscript, which
was one day to place the name of March upon the roll of fame.

Laurie, having dutifully gone to college to please his grandfather,
was now getting through it in the easiest possible manner
to please himself.  A universal favorite, thanks to money, manners,
much talent, and the kindest heart that ever got its owner into
scrapes by trying to get other people out of them, he stood in
great danger of being spoiled, and probably would have been, like
many another promising boy, if he had not possessed a talisman
against evil in the memory of the kind old man who was bound up in
his success, the motherly friend who watched over him as if he were
her son, and last, but not least by any means, the knowledge that
four innocent girls loved, admired, and believed in him with all
their hearts.

Being only 'a glorious human boy', of course he frolicked and
flirted, grew dandified, aquatic, sentimental, or gymnastic, as
college fashions ordained, hazed and was hazed, talked slang, and
more than once came perilously near suspension and expulsion.  But
as high spirits and the love of fun were the causes of these pranks,
he always managed to save himself by frank confession, honorable
atonement, or the irresistible power of persuasion which he possessed
in perfection.  In fact, he rather prided himself on his narrow
escapes, and liked to thrill the girls with graphic accounts of his
triumphs over wrathful tutors, dignified professors, and vanquished
enemies.  The 'men of my class', were heroes in the eyes of the girls,
who never wearied of the exploits of 'our fellows', and were frequently
allowed to bask in the smiles of these great creatures, when Laurie
brought them home with him.

Amy especially enjoyed this high honor, and became quite a belle
among them, for her ladyship early felt and learned to use the gift
of fascination with which she was endowed.  Meg was too much absorbed
in her private and particular John to care for any other lords of
creation, and Beth too shy to do more than peep at them and wonder
how Amy dared to order them about so, but Jo felt quite in her own
element, and found it very difficult to refrain from imitating the
gentlemanly attitudes, phrases, and feats, which seemed more natural
to her than the decorums prescribed for young ladies.  They all liked
Jo immensely, but never fell in love with her, though very few
escaped without paying the tribute of a sentimental sigh or two at
Amy's shrine.  And speaking of sentiment brings us very naturally to
the 'Dovecote'.

That was the name of the little brown house Mr. Brooke had prepared
for Meg's first home.  Laurie had christened it, saying it was
highly appropriate to the gentle lovers who 'went on together like a
pair of turtledoves, with first a bill and then a coo'.  It was a
tiny house, with a little garden behind and a lawn about as big as a
pocket handkerchief in the front.  Here Meg meant to have a fountain,
shrubbery, and a profusion of lovely flowers, though just at present
the fountain was represented by a weather-beaten urn, very like a
dilapidated slopbowl, the shrubbery consisted of several young larches,
undecided whether to live or die, and the profusion of flowers was
merely hinted by regiments of sticks to show where seeds were planted.
But inside, it was altogether charming, and the happy bride saw no
fault from garret to cellar.  To be sure, the hall was so narrow it
was fortunate that they had no piano, for one never could have been
got in whole, the dining room was so small that six people were a
tight fit, and the kitchen stairs seemed built for the express
purpose of precipitating both servants and china pell-mell into the
coalbin.  But once get used to these slight blemishes and nothing
could be more complete, for good sense and good taste had presided
over the furnishing, and the result was highly satisfactory.  There
were no marble-topped tables, long mirrors, or lace curtains in the
little parlor, but simple furniture, plenty of books, a fine picture
or two, a stand of flowers in the bay window, and, scattered all
about, the pretty gifts which came from friendly hands and were the
fairer for the loving messages they brought.

I don't think the Parian Psyche Laurie gave lost any of its
beauty because John put up the bracket it stood upon, that any
upholsterer could have draped the plain muslin curtains more
gracefully than Amy's artistic hand, or that any store-room was ever
better provided with good wishes, merry words, and happy hopes
than that in which Jo and her mother put away Meg's few boxes,
barrels, and bundles, and I am morally certain that the spandy new
kitchen never could have looked so cozy and neat if Hannah had not
arranged every pot and pan a dozen times over, and laid the fire
all ready for lighting the minute 'Mis.  Brooke came home'.  I also
doubt if any young matron ever began life with so rich a supply of
dusters, holders, and piece bags, for Beth made enough to last till
the silver wedding came round, and invented three different kinds
of dishcloths for the express service of the bridal china.

People who hire all these things done for them never know
what they lose, for the homeliest tasks get beautified if loving
hands do them, and Meg found so many proofs of this that everything
in her small nest, from the kitchen roller to the silver vase on
her parlor table, was eloquent of home love and tender forethought.

What happy times they had planning together, what solemn shopping
excursions, what funny mistakes they made, and what shouts of
laughter arose over Laurie's ridiculous bargains.  In his love of
jokes, this young gentleman, though nearly through college, was a
much of a boy as ever.  His last whim had been to bring with him on
his weekly visits some new, useful, and ingenious article for the
young housekeeper.  Now a bag of remarkable clothespins, next, a
wonderful nutmeg grater which fell to pieces at the first trial, a
knife cleaner that spoiled all the knives, or a sweeper that picked
the nap neatly off the carpet and left the dirt, labor-saving soap
that took the skin off one's hands, infallible cements which stuck
firmly to nothing but the fingers of the deluded buyer, and every
kind of tinware, from a toy savings bank for odd pennies, to a
wonderful boiler which would wash articles in its own steam with
every prospect of exploding in the process.

In vain Meg begged him to stop.  John laughed at him, and Jo called
him 'Mr. Toodles'.  He was possessed with a mania for patronizing
Yankee ingenuity, and seeing his friends fitly furnished forth.
So each week beheld some fresh absurdity.

Everything was done at last, even to Amy's arranging different
colored soaps to match the different colored rooms, and Beth's
setting the table for the first meal.

"Are you satisfied?  Does it seem like home, and do you feel
as if you should be happy here?" asked Mrs. March, as she and her
daughter went through the new kingdom arm in arm, for just then
they seemed to cling together more tenderly than ever.

"Yes, Mother, perfectly satisfied, thanks to you all, and so
happy that I can't talk about it," with a look that was far better
than words.

"If she only had a servant or two it would be all right," said Amy,
coming out of the parlor, where she had been trying to decide whether
the bronze Mercury looked best on the whatnot or the mantlepiece.

"Mother and I have talked that over, and I have made up my
mind to try her way first.  There will be so little to do that with
Lotty to run my errands and help me here and there, I shall only
have enough work to keep me from getting lazy or homesick," answered
Meg tranquilly.

"Sallie Moffat has four," began Amy.

"If Meg had four, the house wouldn't hold them, and master and
missis would have to camp in the garden," broke in Jo, who, enveloped
in a big blue pinafore, was giving the last polish to the door handles.

"Sallie isn't a poor man's wife, and many maids are in keeping
with her fine establishment.  Meg and John begin humbly, but I have
a feeling that there will be quite as much happiness in the little
house as in the big one.  It's a great mistake for young girls like
Meg to leave themselves nothing to do but dress, give orders, and
gossip.  When I was first married, I used to long for my new clothes
to wear out or get torn, so that I might have the pleasure of mending
them, for I got heartily sick of doing fancywork and tending my
pocket handkerchief."

"Why didn't you go into the kitchen and make messes, as Sallie
says she does to amuse herself, though they never turn out well and
the servants laugh at her," said Meg.

"I did after a while, not to 'mess' but to learn of Hannah how
things should be done, that my servants need not laugh at me.  It
was play then, but there came a time when I was truly grateful that
I not only possessed the will but the power to cook wholesome food
for my little girls, and help myself when I could no longer afford
to hire help.  You begin at the other end, Meg, dear, but the lessons
you learn now will be of use to you by-and-by when John is a richer
man, for the mistress of a house, however splendid, should know how
work ought to be done, if she wishes to be well and honestly served."

"Yes, Mother, I'm sure of that," said Meg, listening respectfully
to the little lecture, for the best of women will hold forth
upon the all absorbing subject of house keeping.  "Do you know I
like this room most of all in my baby house," added Meg, a minute
after, as they went upstairs and she looked into her well-stored
linen closet.

Beth was there, laying the snowy piles smoothly on the shelves
and exulting over the goodly array.  All three laughed as Meg spoke,
for that linen closet was a joke.  You see, having said that if Meg
married 'that Brooke' she shouldn't have a cent of her money, Aunt
March was rather in a quandary when time had appeased her wrath and
made her repent her vow.  She never broke her word, and was much
exercised in her mind how to get round it, and at last devised a
plan whereby she could satisfy herself.  Mrs. Carrol, Florence's
mamma, was ordered to buy, have made, and marked a generous supply
of house and table linen, and send it as her present, all of which
was faithfully done, but the secret leaked out, and was greatly
enjoyed by the family, for Aunt March tried to look utterly
unconscious, and insisted that she could give nothing but the
old-fashioned pearls long promised to the first bride.

"That's a housewifely taste which I am glad to see.  I had a
young friend who set up housekeeping with six sheets, but she had
finger bowls for company and that satisfied her," said Mrs. March,
patting the damask tablecloths, with a truly feminine appreciation
of their fineness.

"I haven't a single finger bowl, but this is a setout that will
last me all my days, Hannah says."  And Meg looked quite contented,
as well she might.

A tall, broad-shouldered young fellow, with a cropped head, a
felt basin of a hat, and a flyaway coat, came tramping down the
road at a great pace, walked over the low fence without stopping to
open the gate, straight up to Mrs. March, with both hands out and
a hearty . . .

"Here I am, Mother!  Yes, it's all right."

The last words were in answer to the look the elder lady gave
him, a kindly questioning look which the handsome eyes met so
frankly that the little ceremony closed, as usual, with a motherly
kiss.

"For Mrs. John Brooke, with the maker's congratulations and
compliments.  Bless you, Beth!  What a refreshing spectacle you
are, Jo.  Amy, you are getting altogether too handsome for a
single lady."

As Laurie spoke, he delivered a brown paper parcel to Meg,
pulled Beth's hair ribbon, stared at Jo's big pinafore, and fell
into an attitude of mock rapture before Amy, then shook hands all
round, and everyone began to talk.

"Where is John?" asked Meg anxiously.

"Stopped to get the license for tomorrow, ma'am."

"Which side won the last match, Teddy?" inquired Jo, who persisted
in feeling an interest in manly sports despite her nineteen years.

"Ours, of course.  Wish you'd been there to see."

"How is the lovely Miss Randal?" asked Amy with a significant smile.

"More cruel than ever.  Don't you see how I'm pining away?" and 
Laurie gave his broad chest a sounding slap and heaved a
melodramatic sigh.

"What's the last joke?  Undo the bundle and see, Meg," said
Beth, eying the knobby parcel with curiosity.

"It's a useful thing to have in the house in case of fire
or thieves," observed Laurie, as a watchman's rattle appeared,
amid the laughter of the girls.

"Any time when John is away and you get frightened, Mrs.
Meg, just swing that out of the front window, and it will rouse
the neighborhood in a jiffy.  Nice thing, isn't it?" and Laurie
gave them a sample of its powers that made them cover up their ears.

"There's gratitude for you!  And speaking of gratitude reminds
me to mention that you may thank Hannah for saving your wedding cake
from destruction.  I saw it going into your house as I came by, and
if she hadn't defended it manfully I'd have had a pick at it, for it
looked like a remarkably plummy one."

"I wonder if you will ever grow up, Laurie," said Meg in a
matronly tone.

"I'm doing my best, ma'am, but can't get much higher, I'm afraid,
as six feet is about all men can do in these degenerate days,"
responded the young gentleman, whose head was about level with the
little chandelier.

"I suppose it would be profanation to eat anything in this
spick-and-span bower, so as I'm tremendously hungry,
I propose an adjournment," he added presently.

"Mother and I are going to wait for John.  There are some last
things to settle," said Meg, bustling away.

"Beth and I are going over to Kitty Bryant's to get more flowers
for tomorrow," added Amy, tying a picturesque hat over her picturesque
curls, and enjoying the effect as much as anybody.

"Come, Jo, don't desert a fellow.  I'm in such a state of exhaustion
I can't get home without help.  Don't take off your apron,
whatever you do, it's peculiarly becoming," said Laurie, as Jo
bestowed his especial aversion in her capacious pocket and offered
her arm to support his feeble steps.

"Now, Teddy, I want to talk seriously to you about tomorrow,"
began Jo, as they strolled away together.  "You must promise to
behave well, and not cut up any pranks, and spoil our plans."

"Not a prank."

"And don't say funny things when we ought to be sober."

"I never do.  You are the one for that."

"And I implore you not to look at me during the ceremony.  I
shall certainly laugh if you do."

"You won't see me, you'll be crying so hard that the thick fog
round you will obscure the prospect."

"I never cry unless for some great affliction."

"Such as fellows going to college, hey?" cut in Laurie, with
suggestive laugh.

"Don't be a peacock.  I only moaned a trifle to keep the girls
company."

"Exactly.  I say, Jo, how is Grandpa this week?  Pretty amiable?"

"Very.  Why, have you got into a scrape and want to know how
he'll take it?" asked Jo rather sharply.

"Now, Jo, do you think I'd look your mother in the face and say
'All right', if it wasn't?" and Laurie stopped short, with an
injured air.

"No, I don't."

"Then don't go and be suspicious.  I only want some money," said
Laurie, walking on again, appeased by her hearty tone.

"You spend a great deal, Teddy."

"Bless you, I don't spend it, it spends itself somehow, and is
gone before I know it."

"You are so generous and kind-hearted that you let people borrow,
and can't say 'No' to anyone.  We heard about Henshaw and all you did
for him.  If you always spent money in that way, no one would blame
you," said Jo warmly.

"Oh, he made a mountain out of a molehill.  You wouldn't have me
let that fine fellow work himself to death just for want of a little
help, when he is worth a dozen of us lazy chaps, would you?"

"Of course not, but I don't see the use of your having seventeen
waistcoats, endless neckties, and a new hat every time you come home.
I thought you'd got over the dandy period, but every now and then it
breaks out in a new spot.  Just now it's the fashion to be hideous,
to make your head look like a scrubbing brush, wear a strait jacket,
orange gloves, and clumping square-toed boots.  If it was cheap
ugliness, I'd say nothing, but it costs as much as the other, and I
don't get any satisfaction out of it."

Laurie threw back his head, and laughed so heartily at this
attack, that the felt hat fell off, and Jo walked on it, which
insult only afforded him an opportunity for expatiating on the
advantages of a rough-and-ready costume, as he folded up the
maltreated hat, and stuffed it into his pocket.

"Don't lecture any more, there's a good soul!  I have enough
all through the week, and like to enjoy myself when I come home.
I'll get myself up regardless of expense tomorrow and be a
satisfaction to my friends."

"I'll leave you in peace if you'll only let your hair grow.
I'm not aristocratic, but I do object to being seen with a person
who looks like a young prize fighter," observed Jo severely.

"This unassuming style promotes study, that's why we adopt it,"
returned Laurie, who certainly could not be accused of vanity, having
voluntarily sacrificed a handsome curly crop to the demand for
quarter-inch-long stubble.

"By the way, Jo, I think that little Parker is really getting
desperate about Amy.  He talks of her constantly, writes poetry, and
moons about in a most suspicious manner.  He'd better nip his little
passion in the bud, hadn't he?" added Laurie, in a confidential,
elder brotherly tone, after a minute's silence.

"Of course he had.  We don't want any more marrying in this
family for years to come.  Mercy on us, what are the children
thinking of?" and Jo looked as much scandalized as if Amy and little
Parker were not yet in their teens.

"It's a fast age, and I don't know what we are coming to, ma'am.
You are a mere infant, but you'll go next, Jo, and we'll be left
lamenting," said Laurie, shaking his head over the degeneracy of the
times.

"Don't be alarmed.  I'm not one of the agreeable sort.  Nobody
will want me, and it's a mercy, for there should always be one old
maid in a family."

"You won't give anyone a chance," said Laurie, with a sidelong
glance and a little more color than before in his sunburned face.
"You won't show the soft side of your character, and if a fellow
gets a peep at it by accident and can't help showing that he likes
it, you treat him as Mrs. Gummidge did her sweetheart, throw cold
water over him, and get so thorny no one dares touch or look at you."

"I don't like that sort of thing.  I'm too busy to be worried
with nonsense, and I think it's dreadful to break up families so.
Now don't say any more about it.  Meg's wedding has turned all our
heads, and we talk of nothing but lovers and such absurdities.  I
don't wish to get cross, so let's change the subject;"  and Jo
looked quite ready to fling cold water on the slightest provocation.

Whatever his feelings might have been, Laurie found a vent for
them in a long low whistle and the fearful prediction as they parted
at the gate, "Mark my words, Jo, you'll go next."



CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

THE FIRST WEDDING

The June roses over the porch were awake bright and early on that
morning, rejoicing with all their hearts in the cloudless sunshine,
like friendly little neighbors, as they were.  Quite flushed with
excitement were their ruddy faces, as they swung in the wind,
whispering to one another what they had seen, for some peeped in at
the dining room windows where the feast was spread, some climbed up
to nod and smile at the sisters as they dressed the bride, others
waved a welcome to those who came and went on various errands in
garden, porch, and hall, and all, from the rosiest full-blown flower
to the palest baby bud, offered their tribute of beauty and
fragrance to the gentle mistress who had loved and tended them so
long.

Meg looked very like a rose herself, for all that was best and
sweetest in heart and soul seemed to bloom into her face that day,
making it fair and tender, with a charm more beautiful than beauty.
Neither silk, lace, nor orange flowers would she have.  "I don't
want a fashionable wedding, but only those about me whom I love,
and to them I wish to look and be my familiar self."

So she made her wedding gown herself, sewing into it the tender
hopes and innocent romances of a girlish heart.  Her sisters braided
up her pretty hair, and the only ornaments she wore were the lilies
of the valley, which 'her John' liked best of all the flowers that
grew.

"You do look just like our own dear Meg, only so very sweet
and lovely that I should hug you if it wouldn't crumple your dress,"
cried Amy, surveying her with delight when all was done.

"Then I am satisfied.  But please hug and kiss me, everyone,
and don't mind my dress.  I want a great many crumples of this
sort put into it today,"  and Meg opened her arms to her sisters,
who clung about her with April faces for a minute, feeling that
the new love had not changed the old.

"Now I'm going to tie John's cravat for him, and then to stay
a few minutes with Father quietly in the study,"  and Meg ran
down to perform these little ceremonies, and then to follow her
mother wherever she went, conscious that in spite of the smiles
on the motherly face, there was a secret sorrow hid in the motherly
heart at the flight of the first bird from the nest.

As the younger girls stand together, giving the last touches
to their simple toilet, it may be a good time to tell of a few
changes which three years have wrought in their appearance, for
all are looking their best just now.

Jo's angles are much softened, she has learned to carry herself
with ease, if not grace.  The curly crop has lengthened into
a thick coil, more becoming to the small head atop of the tall
figure.  There is a fresh color in her brown cheeks, a soft shine
in her eyes, and only gentle words fall from her sharp tongue today.

Beth has grown slender, pale, and more quiet than ever.  The
beautiful, kind eyes are larger, and in them lies an expression
that saddens one, although it is not sad itself.  It is the shadow
of pain which touches the young face with such pathetic patience,
but Beth seldom complains and always speaks hopefully of 'being
better soon'.

Amy is with truth considered 'the flower of the family', for
at sixteen she has the air and bearing of a full-grown woman, not
beautiful, but possessed of that indescribable charm called grace.
One saw it in the lines of her figure, the make and motion of her
hands, the flow of her dress, the droop of her hair, unconscious
yet harmonious, and as attractive to many as beauty itself.  Amy's
nose still afflicted her, for it never would grow Grecian, so did
her mouth, being too wide, and having a decided chin.  These offending
features gave character to her whole face, but she never could see it,
and consoled herself with her wonderfully fair complexion,
keen blue eyes, and curls more golden and abundant than ever.

All three wore suits of thin silver gray (their best gowns for
the summer), with blush roses in hair and bosom, and all three
looked just what they were, fresh-faced, happy-hearted girls, pausing
a moment in their busy lives to read with wistful eyes the sweetest
chapter in the romance of womanhood.

There were to be no ceremonious performances, everything was to be
as natural and homelike as possible, so when Aunt March arrived, she
was scandalized to see the bride come running to welcome and lead
her in, to find the bridegroom fastening up a garland that had
fallen down, and to catch a glimpse of the paternal minister
marching upstairs with a grave countenance and a wine bottle under
each arm.

"Upon my word, here's a state of things!" cried the old lady,
taking the seat of honor prepared for her, and settling the folds
of her lavender moire with a great rustle.  "You oughtn't to be
seen till the last minute, child."

"I'm not a show, Aunty, and no one is coming to stare at me,
to criticize my dress, or count the cost of my luncheon.  I'm too
happy to care what anyone says or thinks, and I'm going to have
my little wedding just as I like it.  John, dear, here's your
hammer."  And away went Meg to help 'that man' in his highly
improper employment.

Mr. Brooke didn't even say, "Thank you," but as he stooped
for the unromantic tool, he kissed his little bride behind the
folding door, with a look that made Aunt March whisk out her
pocket handkerchief with a sudden dew in her sharp old eyes.

A crash, a cry, and a laugh from Laurie, accompanied by the
indecorous exclamation, "Jupiter Ammon!  Jo's upset the cake again!"
caused a momentary flurry, which was hardly over when a flock of
cousins arrived, and 'the party came in', as Beth used to say when
a child.

"Don't let that young giant come near me, he worries me worse
than mosquitoes," whispered the old lady to Amy, as the rooms filled
and Laurie's black head towered above the rest.

"He has promised to be very good today, and he can be perfectly
elegant if he likes," returned Amy, and gliding away to warn
Hercules to beware of the dragon, which warning caused him to haunt
the old lady with a devotion that nearly distracted her.

There was no bridal procession, but a sudden silence fell upon
the room as Mr. March and the young couple took their places under
the green arch.  Mother and sisters gathered close, as if loath to
give Meg up.  The fatherly voice broke more than once, which only
seemed to make the service more beautiful and solemn.  The bridegroom's
hand trembled visibly, and no one heard his replies.  But Meg
looked straight up in her husband's eyes, and said, "I will!"
with such tender trust in her own face and voice that her mother's
heart rejoiced and Aunt March sniffed audibly.

Jo did not cry, though she was very near it once, and was only
saved from a demonstration by the consciousness that Laurie was
staring fixedly at her, with a comical mixture of merriment and
emotion in his wicked black eyes.  Beth kept her face hidden on her
mother's shoulder, but Amy stood like a graceful statue, with a
most becoming ray of sunshine touching her white forehead and the
flower in her hair.

It wasn't at all the thing, I'm afraid, but the minute she was
fairly married, Meg cried, "The first kiss for Marmee!" and turning,
gave it with her heart on her lips.  During the next fifteen minutes
she looked more like a rose than ever, for everyone availed themselves
of their privileges to the fullest extent, from Mr. Laurence
to old Hannah, who, adorned with a headdress fearfully and
wonderfully made, fell upon her in the hall, crying with a sob
and a chuckle, "Bless you, deary, a hundred times!  The cake ain't
hurt a mite, and everything looks lovely."

Everybody cleared up after that, and said something brilliant,
or tried to, which did just as well, for laughter is ready when
hearts are light.  There was no display of gifts, for they were
already in the little house, nor was there an elaborate breakfast,
but a plentiful lunch of cake and fruit, dressed with flowers.
Mr. Laurence and Aunt March shrugged and smiled at one another when
water, lemonade, and coffee were found to be to only sorts of
nectar which the three Hebes carried round.  No one said anything,
till Laurie, who insisted on serving the bride, appeared before her,
with a loaded salver in his hand and a puzzled expression on his face.

"Has Jo smashed all the bottles by accident?" he whispered,
"or am I merely laboring under a delusion that I saw some lying
about loose this morning?"

"No, your grandfather kindly offered us his best, and Aunt
March actually sent some, but Father put away a little for Beth,
and dispatched the rest to the Soldier's Home.  You know he thinks
that wine should be used only in illness, and Mother says that
neither she nor her daughters will ever offer it to any young man
under her roof."

Meg spoke seriously and expected to see Laurie frown or laugh,
but he did neither, for after a quick look at her, he said, in
his impetuous way, "I like that!  For I've seen enough harm done
to wish other women would think as you do."

"You are not made wise by experience, I hope?" and there was
an anxious accent in Meg's voice.

"No.  I give you my word for it.  Don't think too well of me,
either, this is not one of my temptations.  Being brought up where
wine is as common as water and almost as harmless, I don't care for
it, but when a pretty girl offers it, one doesn't like to refuse,
you see."

"But you will, for the sake of others, if not for your own.
Come, Laurie, promise, and give me one more reason to call this the
happiest day of my life."

A demand so sudden and so serious made the young man hesitate
a moment, for ridicule is often harder to bear than self-denial.
Meg knew that if he gave the promise he would keep it at all costs,
and feeling her power, used it as a woman may for her friend's good.
She did not speak, but she looked up at him with a face made very
eloquent by happiness, and a smile which said, "No one can refuse
me anything today."

Laurie certainly could not, and with an answering smile, he
gave her his hand, saying heartily, "I promise, Mrs. Brooke!"

"I thank you, very, very much."

"And I drink 'long life to your resolution', Teddy," cried Jo,
baptizing him with a splash of lemonade, as she waved her glass and
beamed approvingly upon him.

So the toast was drunk, the pledge made and loyally kept in
spite of many temptations, for with instinctive wisdom, the girls
seized a happy moment to do their friend a service, for which he
thanked them all his life.

After lunch, people strolled about, by twos and threes, through
the house and garden, enjoying the sunshine without and within.  Meg
and John happened to be standing together in the middle of the grass
plot, when Laurie was seized with an inspiration which put the
finishing touch to this unfashionable wedding.

"All the married people take hands and dance round the new-made
husband and wife, as the Germans do, while we bachelors and
spinsters prance in couples outside!" cried Laurie, promenading down
the path with Amy, with such infectious spirit and skill that
everyone else followed their example without a murmur.  Mr. and Mrs.
March, Aunt and Uncle Carrol began it, others rapidly joined in,
even Sallie Moffat, after a moment's hesitation, threw her train
over her arm and whisked Ned into the ring.  But the crowning joke
was Mr. Laurence and Aunt March, for when the stately old gentleman
chasseed solemnly up to the old lady, she just tucked her cane under
her arm, and hopped briskly away to join hands with the rest and
dance about the bridal pair, while the young folks pervaded the
garden like butterflies on a midsummer day.

Want of breath brought the impromptu ball to a close, and then
people began to go.

"I wish you well, my dear, I heartily wish you well, but I think
you'll be sorry for it," said Aunt March to Meg, adding to the
bridegroom, as he led her to the carriage, "You've got a treasure,
young man, see that you deserve it."

"That is the prettiest wedding I've been to for an age, Ned, and
I don't see why, for there wasn't a bit of style about it," observed
Mrs. Moffat to her husband, as they drove away.

"Laurie, my lad, if you ever want to indulge in this sort of
thing, get one of those little girls to help you, and I shall be
perfectly satisfied," said Mr. Laurence, settling himself in his
easy chair to rest after the excitement of the morning.

"I'll do my best to gratify you, Sir," was Laurie's unusually
dutiful reply, as he carefully unpinned the posy Jo had put in his
buttonhole.

The little house was not far away, and the only bridal journey
Meg had was the quiet walk with John from the old home to the new.
When she came down, looking like a pretty Quakeress in her
dove-colored suit and straw bonnet tied with white, they all gathered
about her to say 'good-by', as tenderly as if she had been going to
make the grand tour.

"Don't feel that I am separated from you, Marmee dear, or that
I love you any the less for loving John so much," she said, clinging
to her mother, with full eyes for a moment.  "I shall come every day,
Father, and expect to keep my old place in all your hearts, though I
am married.  Beth is going to be with me a great deal, and the other
girls will drop in now and then to laugh at my housekeeping struggles.
Thank you all for my happy wedding day.  Goodby, goodby!"

They stood watching her, with faces full of love and hope and
tender pride as she walked away, leaning on her husband's arm, with
her hands full of flowers and the June sunshine brightening her happy
face--and so Meg's married life began.



CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

ARTISTIC ATTEMPTS

It takes people a long time to learn the difference between talent
and genius, especially ambitious young men and women.  Amy was
learning this distinction through much tribulation, for mistaking
enthusiasm for inspiration, she attempted every branch of art with
youthful audacity.  For a long time there was a lull in the 'mud-pie'
business, and she devoted herself to the finest pen-and-ink drawing,
in which she showed such taste and skill that her graceful handiwork
proved both pleasant and profitable.  But over-strained eyes caused
pen and ink to be laid aside for a bold attempt at poker-sketching.
While this attack lasted, the family lived in constant fear of a
conflagration, for the odor of burning wood pervaded the house at
all hours, smoke issued from attic and shed with alarming frequency,
red-hot pokers lay about promiscuously, and Hannah never went to bed
without a pail of water and the dinner bell at her door in case of
fire.  Raphael's face was found boldly executed on the underside of
the moulding board, and Bacchus on the head of a beer barrel.  A
chanting cherub adorned the cover of the sugar bucket, and attempts
to portray Romeo and Juliet supplied kindling for some time.

From fire to oil was a natural transition for burned fingers,
and Amy fell to painting with undiminished ardor.  An artist friend
fitted her out with his castoff palettes, brushes, and colors, and
she daubed away, producing pastoral and marine views such as were
never seen on land or sea.  Her monstrosities in the way of cattle
would have taken prizes at an agricultural fair, and the perilous
pitching of her vessels would have produced seasickness in the most
nautical observer, if the utter disregard to all known rules of
shipbuilding and rigging had not convulsed him with laughter at the
first glance.  Swarthy boys and dark-eyed Madonnas, staring at you
from one corner of the studio, suggested Murillo; oily brown shadows
of faces with a lurid streak in the wrong place, meant Rembrandt;
buxom ladies and dropiscal infants, Rubens; and Turner appeared in
tempests of blue thunder, orange lightning, brown rain, and purple
clouds, with a tomato-colored splash in the middle, which might be
the sun or a bouy, a sailor's shirt or a king's robe, as the
spectator pleased.

Charcoal portraits came next, and the entire family hung in a
row, looking as wild and crocky as if just evoked from a coalbin.
Softened into crayon sketches, they did better, for the likenesses
were good, and Amy's hair, Jo's nose, Meg's mouth, and Laurie's
eyes were pronounced 'wonderfully fine'.  A return to clay and
plaster followed, and ghostly casts of her acquaintances haunted
corners of the house, or tumbled off closet shelves onto people's
heads.  Children were enticed in as models, till their incoherent
accounts of her mysterious doings caused Miss Amy to be regarded in
the light of a young ogress.  Her efforts in this line, however,
were brought to an abrupt close by an untoward accident, which
quenched her ardor.  Other models failing her for a time, she
undertook to cast her own pretty foot, and the family were one day
alarmed by an unearthly bumping and screaming and running to the rescue,
found the young enthusiast hopping wildly about the shed with her
foot held fast in a pan full of plaster, which had hardened with
unexpected rapidity.  With much difficulty and some danger she was
dug out, for Jo was so overcome with laughter while she excavated
that her knife went too far, cut the poor foot, and left a lasting
memorial of one artistic attempt, at least.

After this Amy subsided, till a mania for sketching from nature set
her to haunting river, field, and wood, for picturesque studies, and
sighing for ruins to copy.  She caught endless colds sitting on damp
grass to book 'a delicious bit', composed of a stone, a stump, one
mushroom, and a broken mullein stalk, or 'a heavenly mass of
clouds', that looked like a choice display of featherbeds when done.
She sacrificed her complexion floating on the river in the midsummer
sun to study light and shade, and got a wrinkle over her nose trying
after 'points of sight', or whatever the squint-and-string
performance is called.

If 'genius is eternal patience', as Michelangelo affirms, Amy
had some claim to the divine attribute, for she persevered in spite
of all obstacles, failures, and discouragements, firmly believing
that in time she should do something worthy to be called 'high art'.

She was learning, doing, and enjoying other things, meanwhile,
for she had resolved to be an attractive and accomplished woman,
even if she never became a great artist.  Here she succeeded better,
for she was one of those happily created beings who please without
effort, make friends everywhere, and take life so gracefully and
easily that less fortunate souls are tempted to believe that such
are born under a lucky star.  Everybody liked her, for among her
good gifts was tact.  She had an instinctive sense of what was
pleasing and proper, always said the right thing to the right person,
did just what suited the time and place, and was so self-possessed
that her sisters used to say, "If Amy went to court without any
rehearsal beforehand, she'd know exactly what to do."

One of her weaknesses was a desire to move in 'our best society',
without being quite sure what the best really was.  Money, position,
fashionable accomplishments, and elegant manners were most desirable
things in her eyes, and she liked to associate with those who
possessed them, often mistaking the false for the true, and admiring
what was not admirable.  Never forgetting that by birth she was a
gentlewoman, she cultivated her aristocratic tastes and feelings, so
that when the opportunity came she might be ready to take the place
from which poverty now excluded her.

"My lady," as her friends called her, sincerely desired to be
a genuine lady, and was so at heart, but had yet to learn that money
cannot buy refinement of nature, that rank does not always confer
nobility, and that true breeding makes itself felt in spite of
external drawbacks.

"I want to ask a favor of you, Mamma," Amy said, coming in
with an important air one day.

"Well, little girl, what is it?" replied her mother, in whose
eyes the stately young lady still remained 'the baby'.

"Our drawing class breaks up next week, and before the girls
separate for the summer, I want to ask them out here for a day.  They
are wild to see the river, sketch the broken bridge, and copy some
of the things they admire in my book.  They have been very kind to
me in many ways, and I am grateful, for they are all rich and I know
I am poor, yet they never made any difference."

"Why should they?" and Mrs. March put the question with what
the girls called her 'Maria Theresa air'.

"You know as well as I that it does make a difference with
nearly everyone, so don't ruffle up like a dear, motherly hen, when
your chickens get pecked by smarter birds.  The ugly duckling turned
out a swan, you know."  and Amy smiled without bitterness, for she
possessed a happy temper and hopeful spirit.

Mrs. March laughed, and smoothed down her maternal pride as
she asked, "Well, my swan, what is your plan?"

"I should like to ask the girls out to lunch next week, to take
them for a drive to the places they want to see, a row on the river,
perhaps, and make a little artistic fete for them."

"That looks feasible.  What do you want for lunch?  Cake,
sandwiches, fruit, and coffee will be all that is necessary, I 
suppose?"

"Oh, dear, no!  We must have cold tongue and chicken, French
chocolate and ice cream, besides.  The girls are used to such things,
and I want my lunch to be proper and elegant, though I do work for
my living."

"How many young ladies are there?" asked her mother, beginning
to look sober.

"Twelve or fourteen in the class, but I dare say they won't all come."

"Bless me, child, you will have to charter an omnibus to carry
them about."

"Why, Mother, how can you think of such a thing?  Not more than
six or eight will probably come, so I shall hire a beach wagon and
borrow Mr. Laurence's cherry-bounce." (Hannah's pronunciation of
char-a-banc.)

"All of this will be expensive, Amy."

"Not very.  I've calculated the cost, and I'll pay for it myself."

"Don't you think, dear, that as these girls are used to such
things, and the best we can do will be nothing new, that some simpler
plan would be pleasanter to them, as a change if nothing more, and
much better for us than buying or borrowing what we don't need, and
attempting a style not in keeping with our circumstances?"

"If I can't have it as I like, I don't care to have it at all.
I know that I can carry it out perfectly well, if you and the girls
will help a little, and I don't see why I can't if I'm willing to pay
for it," said Amy, with the decision which opposition was apt to
change into obstinacy.

Mrs. March knew that experience was an excellent teacher, and
when it was possible she left her children to learn alone the lessons
which she would gladly have made easier, if they had not objected to
taking advice as much as they did salts and senna.

"Very well, Amy, if your heart is set upon it, and you see your
way through without too great an outlay of money, time, and temper,
I'll say no more.  Talk it over with the girls, and whichever way
you decide, I'll do my best to help you."

"Thanks, Mother, you are always so kind." and away went Amy to
lay her plan before her sisters.

Meg agreed at once, and promised her aid, gladly offering
anything she possessed, from her little house itself to her very
best saltspoons.  But Jo frowned upon the whole project and would
have nothing to do with it at first.

"Why in the world should you spend your money, worry your family,
and turn the house upside down for a parcel of girls who don't care a
sixpence for you?  I thought you had too much pride and sense to
truckle to any mortal woman just because she wears French boots and
rides in a coupe," said Jo, who, being called from the tragic climax
of her novel, was not in the best mood for social enterprises.

"I don't truckle, and I hate being patronized as much as you do!"
returned Amy indignantly, for the two still jangled when such
questions arose. "The girls do care for me, and I for them, and
there's a great deal of kindness and sense and talent among them, in
spite of what you call fashionable nonsense.  You don't care to make
people like you, to go into good society, and cultivate your manners
and tastes.  I do, and I mean to make the most of every chance that
comes.  You can go through the world with your elbows out and your
nose in the air, and call it independence, if you like.  That's not
my way."

When Amy had whetted her tongue and freed her mind she usually got
the best of it, for she seldom failed to have common sense on her
side, while Jo carried her love of liberty and hate of
conventionalities to such an unlimited extent that she naturally
found herself worsted in an argument.  Amy's definition of Jo's idea
of independence was such a good hit that both burst out laughing,
and the discussion took a more amiable turn.  Much against her will,
Jo at length consented to sacrifice a day to Mrs. Grundy, and help
her sister through what she regarded as 'a nonsensical business'.

The invitations were sent, nearly all accepted, and the following
Monday was set apart for the grand event.  Hannah was out of humor
because her week's work was deranged, and prophesied that "ef the
washin' and ironin' warn't done reg'lar, nothin' would go well
anywheres".  This hitch in the mainspring of the domestic machinery
had a bad effect upon the whole concern, but Amy's motto was 'Nil
desperandum', and having made up her mind what to do, she proceeded
to do it in spite of all obstacles.  To begin with, Hannah's cooking
didn't turn out well.  The chicken was tough, the tongue too salty,
and the chocolate wouldn't froth properly.  Then the cake and ice cost
more than Amy expected, so did the wagon, and various other expenses,
which seemed trifling at the outset, counted up rather alarmingly
afterward.  Beth got a cold and took to her bed.  Meg had an unusual
number of callers to keep her at home, and Jo was in such a divided
state of mind that her breakages, accidents, and mistakes were
uncommonly numerous, serious, and trying.

If it was not fair on Monday, the young ladies were to come on
Tuesday, an arrangement which aggravated Jo and Hannah to the last
degree.  On Monday morning the weather was in that undecided state
which is more exasperating than a steady pour.  It drizzled a little,
shone a little, blew a little, and didn't make up its mind till it
was too late for anyone else to make up theirs.  Amy was up at dawn,
hustling people out of their beds and through their breakfasts, that
the house might be got in order.  The parlor struck her as looking
uncommonly shabby, but without stopping to sigh for what she had not,
she skillfully made the best of what she had, arranging chairs over
the worn places in the carpet, covering stains on the walls with
homemade statuary, which gave an artistic air to the room, as did the
lovely vases of flowers Jo scattered about.

The lunch looked charming, and as she surveyed it, she sincerely
hoped it would taste well, and that the borrowed glass, china, and
silver would get safely home again.  The carriages were promised, Meg
and Mother were all ready to do the honors, Beth was able to help
Hannah behind the scenes, Jo had engaged to be as lively and amiable
as an absent mind, and aching head, and a very decided disapproval of
everybody and everything would allow, and as she wearily dressed, Amy
cheered herself with anticipations of the happy moment when, lunch
safely over, she should drive away with her friends for an afternoon
of artistic delights, for the 'cherry bounce' and the broken bridge
were her strong points.

Then came the hours of suspense, during which she vibrated from
parlor to porch, while public opinion varied like the weathercock.  A
smart shower at eleven had evidently quenched the enthusiasm of the
young ladies who were to arrive at twelve, for nobody came, and at two
the exhausted family sat down in a blaze of sunshine to consume the
perishable portions of the feast, that nothing might be lost.

"No doubt about the weather today, they will certainly come, so
we must fly round and be ready for them," said Amy, as the sun woke
her next morning.  She spoke briskly, but in her secret soul she wished
she had said nothing about Tuesday, for her interest like her cake was
getting a little stale.

"I can't get any lobsters, so you will have to do without salad
today," said Mr. March, coming in half an hour later, with an
expression of placid despair.

"Use the chicken then, the toughness won't matter in a salad,"
advised his wife.

"Hannah left it on the kitchen table a minute, and the kittens got at 
it.  I'm very sorry, Amy," added Beth, who was still a patroness of cats.

"Then I must have a lobster, for tongue alone won't do," said Amy 
decidedly.

"Shall I rush into town and demand one?" asked Jo, with the
magnanimity of a martyr.

"You'd come bringing it home under your arm without any paper,
just to try me.  I'll go myself," answered Amy, whose temper was
beginning to fail.

Shrouded in a thick veil and armed with a genteel traveling basket,
she departed, feeling that a cool drive would soothe her ruffled spirit
and fit her for the labors of the day.  After some delay, the object of
her desire was procured, likewise a bottle of dressing to prevent
further loss of time at home, and off she drove again, well pleased 
with her own forethought.

As the omnibus contained only one other passenger, a sleepy old
lady, Amy pocketed her veil and beguiled the tedium of the way by
trying to find out where all her money had gone to.  So busy was she
with her card full of refractory figures that she did not observe a
newcomer, who entered without stopping the vehicle, till a masculine
voice said, "Good morning, Miss March," and, looking up, she beheld
one of Laurie's most elegant college friends.  Fervently hoping that
he would get out before she did, Amy utterly ignored the basket at her
feet, and congratulating herself that she had on her new traveling
dress, returned the young man's greeting with her usual suavity and
spirit.

They got on excellently, for Amy's chief care was soon set at
rest by learning that the gentleman would leave first, and she was
chatting away in a peculiarly lofty strain, when the old lady got out.
In stumbling to the door, she upset the basket, and--oh horror!--the
lobster, in all its vulgar size and brilliancy, was revealed to the
highborn eyes of a Tudor!

"By Jove, she's forgotten her dinner!" cried the unconscious
youth, poking the scarlet monster into its place with his cane, and
preparing to hand out the basket after the old lady.

"Please don't--it's--it's mine," murmured Amy, with a face nearly
as red as her fish.

"Oh, really, I beg pardon.  It's an uncommonly fine one, isn't it?"
said Tudor, with great presence of mind, and an air of sober interest
that did credit to his breeding.

Amy recovered herself in a breath, set her basket boldly on the
seat, and said, laughing, "Don't you wish you were to have some of the
salad he's going to make, and to see the charming young ladies who are
to eat it?"

Now that was tact, for two of the ruling foibles of the masculine
mind were touched.  The lobster was instantly surrounded by a halo of
pleasing reminiscences, and curiosity about 'the charming young ladies'
diverted his mind from the comical mishap.

"I suppose he'll laugh and joke over it with Laurie, but I shan't
see them, that's a comfort," thought Amy, as Tudor bowed and departed.

She did not mention this meeting at home (though she discovered
that, thanks to the upset, her new dress was much damaged by the
rivulets of dressing that meandered down the skirt), but went through
with the preparations which now seemed more irksome than before, and
at twelve o'clock all was ready again.  Feeling that the neighbors
were interested in her movements, she wished to efface the memory of
yesterday's failure by a grand success today, so she ordered the
'cherry bounce', and drove away in state to meet and escort her guests
to the banquet.

"There's the rumble, they're coming!  I'll go onto the porch and
meet them.  It looks hospitable, and I want the poor child to have a
good time after all her trouble," said Mrs. March, suiting the action
to the word.  But after one glance, she retired, with an indescribable
expression, for looking quite lost in the big carriage, sat Amy and
one young lady.

"Run, Beth, and help Hannah clear half the things off the table.
It will be too absurd to put a luncheon for twelve before a single
girl," cried Jo, hurrying away to the lower regions, too excited to
stop even for a laugh.

In came Amy, quite calm and delightfully cordial to the one
guest who had kept her promise.  The rest of the family, being of
a dramatic turn, played their parts equally well, and Miss Eliott
found them a most hilarious set, for it was impossible to control
entirely the merriment which possessed them.  The remodeled lunch
being gaily partaken of, the studio and garden visited, and art
discussed with enthusiasm, Amy ordered a buggy (alas for the elegant
cherry-bounce), and drove her friend quietly about the neighborhood
till sunset, when 'the party went out'.

As she came walking in, looking very tired but as composed as
ever, she observed that every vestige of the unfortunate fete had
disappeared, except a suspicious pucker about the corners of Jo's
mouth.

"You've had a loverly afternoon for your drive, dear," said
her mother, as respectfully as if the whole twelve had come.

"Miss Eliott is a very sweet girl, and seemed to enjoy herself,
I thought," observed Beth, with unusual warmth.

"Could you spare me some of your cake?  I really need some, I
have so much company, and I can't make such delicious stuff as yours,"
asked Meg soberly.

"Take it all.  I'm the only one here who likes sweet things, and
it will mold before I can dispose of it," answered Amy, thinking with
a sigh of the generous store she had laid in for such an end as this.

"It's a pity Laurie isn't here to help us," began Jo, as they sat
down to ice cream and salad for the second time in two days.

A warning look from her mother checked any further remarks, and
the whole family ate in heroic silence, till Mr. March mildly observed,
"salad was one of the favorite dishes of the ancients, and Evelyn . . ."
Here a general explosion of laughter cut short the 'history of salads',
to the great surprise of the learned gentleman.

"Bundle everything into a basket and send it to the Hummels.  Germans
like messes.  I'm sick of the sight of this, and there's no reason you
should all die of a surfeit because I've been a fool," cried Amy, wiping
her eyes.

"I thought I should have died when I saw you two girls rattling
about in the what-you-call-it, like two little kernels in a very big
nutshell, and Mother waiting in state to receive the throng," sighed
Jo, quite spent with laughter.

"I'm very sorry you were disappointed, dear, but we all did our
best to satisfy you," said Mrs. March, in a tone full of motherly
regret.

"I am satisfied.  I've done what I undertook, and it's not my
fault that it failed.  I comfort myself with that," said Amy with a
little quiver in her voice.  "I thank you all very much for helping
me, and I'll thank you still more if you won't allude to it for a
month, at least."

No one did for several months, but the word 'fete' always produced
a general smile, and Laurie's birthday gift to Amy was a tiny
coral lobster in the shape of a charm for her watch guard.



CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

LITERARY LESSONS

Fortune suddenly smiled upon Jo, and dropped a good luck
penny in her path.  Not a golden penny, exactly, but I doubt
if half a million would have given more real happiness then did
the little sum that came to her in this wise.

Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put
on her scribbling suit, and 'fall into a vortex', as she expressed
it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till
that was finished she could find no peace.  Her 'scribbling suit'
consisted of a black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her
pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a
cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were
cleared for action.  This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of
her family, who during these periods kept their distance, merely
popping in their heads semi-occasionally to ask, with interest,
"Does genius burn, Jo?" They did not always venture even to ask
this question, but took an observation of the cap, and judged
accordingly.  If this expressive article of dress was drawn low
upon the forehead, it was a sign that hard work was going on, in
exciting moments it was pushed rakishly askew, and when despair
seized the author it was plucked wholly off, and cast upon the
floor.  At such times the intruder silently withdrew, and not
until the red bow was seen gaily erect upon the gifted brow,
did anyone dare address Jo.

She did not think herself a genius by any means, but when the
writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon,
and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather,
while she sat safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends
almost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh.  Sleep forsook
her eyes, meals stood untasted, day and night were all too short to
enjoy the happiness which blessed her only at such times, and made
these hours worth living, even if they bore no other fruit.  The
devine afflatus usually lasted a week or two, and then she emerged
from her 'vortex', hungry, sleepy, cross, or despondent.

She was just recovering from one of these attacks when she was
prevailed upon to escort Miss Crocker to a lecture, and in return
for her virtue was rewarded with a new idea.  It was a People's
Course, the lecture on the Pyramids, and Jo rather wondered at the
choice of such a subject for such an audience, but took it for
granted that some great social evil would be remedied or some great
want supplied by unfolding the glories of the Pharaohs to an
audience whose thoughts were busy with the price of coal and flour,
and whose lives were spent in trying to solve harder riddles than
that of the Sphinx.

They were early, and while Miss Crocker set the heel of her
stocking, Jo amused herself by examining the faces of the people who
occupied the seat with them.  On her left were two matrons, with
massive foreheads and bonnets to match, discussing Women's Rights
and making tatting.  Beyond sat a pair of humble lovers, artlessly
holding each other by the hand, a somber spinster eating peppermints
out of a paper bag, and an old gentleman taking his preparatory nap
behind a yellow bandanna.  On her right, her only neighbor was a
studious looking lad absorbed in a newspaper.

It was a pictorial sheet, and Jo examined the work of art nearest
her, idly wondering what fortuitous concatenation of circumstances
needed the melodramatic illustration of an Indian in full war
costume, tumbling over a precipice with a wolf at his throat, while
two infuriated young gentlemen, with unnaturally small feet and big
eyes, were stabbing each other close by, and a disheveled female was
flying away in the background with her mouth wide open.  Pausing to
turn a page, the lad saw her looking and, with boyish good nature
offered half his paper, saying bluntly, "want to read it? That's a
first-rate story."

Jo accepted it with a smile, for she had never outgrown her liking
for lads, and soon found herself involved in the usual labyrinth of
love, mystery, and murder, for the story belonged to that class of
light literature in which the passions have a holiday, and when the
author's invention fails, a grand catastrophe clears the stage of
one half the dramatis personae, leaving the other half to exult over
their downfall.

"Prime, isn't it?" asked the boy, as her eye went down the last
paragraph of her portion.

"I think you and I could do as well as that if we tried,"
returned Jo, amused at his admiration of the trash.

"I should think I was a pretty lucky chap if I could.  She makes
a good living out of such stories, they say." and he pointed to the
name of Mrs. S.L.A.N.G.  Northbury, under the title of the tale.

"Do you know her?" asked Jo, with sudden interest.

"No, but I read all her pieces, and I know a fellow who works in
the office where this paper is printed."

"Do you say she makes a good living out of stories like this?"
and Jo looked more respectfully at the agitated group and thickly
sprinkled exclamation points that adorned the page.

"Guess she does!  She knows just what folks like, and gets paid
well for writing it."

Here the lecture began, but Jo heard very little of it, for while
Professor Sands was prosing away about Belzoni, Cheops, scarabei, and
hieroglyphics, she was covertly taking down the address of the paper,
and boldly resolving to try for the hundred-dollar prize offered in
its columns for a sensational story.  By the time the lecture ended
and the audience awoke, she had built up a splendid fortune for herself
(not the first founded on paper), and was already deep in the
concoction of her story, being unable to decide whether the duel
should come before the elopement or after the murder.

She said nothing of her plan at home, but fell to work next day,
much to the disquiet of her mother, who always looked a little anxious
when 'genius took to burning'.  Jo had never tried this style before,
contenting herself with very mild romances for _The Spread Eagle_.  Her
experience and miscellaneous reading were of service now, for they
gave her some idea of dramatic effect, and supplied plot, language,
and costumes.  Her story was as full of desperation and despair as her
limited acquaintance with those uncomfortable emotions enabled her to
make it, and having located it in Lisbon, she wound up with an earthquake,
as a striking and appropriate denouement.  The manuscript was
privately dispatched, accompanied by a note, modestly saying that if
the tale didn't get the prize, which the writer hardly dared expect,
she would be very glad to receive any sum it might be considered worth.

Six weeks is a long time to wait, and a still longer time for
a girl to keep a secret, but Jo did both, and was just beginning
to give up all hope of ever seeing her manuscript again,
when a letter arrived which almost took her breath away, for on
opening it, a check for a hundred dollars fell into her lap.  For
a minute she stared at it as if it had been a snake, then she read
her letter and began to cry.  If the amiable gentleman who wrote
that kindly note could have known what intense happiness he was
giving a fellow creature, I think he would devote his leisure hours,
if he has any, to that amusement, for Jo valued the letter more than
the money, because it was encouraging, and after years of effort it
was so pleasant to find that she had learned to do something, though
it was only to write a sensation story.

A prouder young woman was seldom seen than she, when, having
composed herself, she electrified the family by appearing before them
with the letter in one hand, the check in the other, announcing that
she had won the prize.  Of course there was a great jubilee, and when
the story came everyone read and praised it, though after her father
had told her that the language was good, the romance fresh and hearty,
and the tragedy quite thrilling, he shook his head, and said in his
unworldly way . . .

"You can do better than this, Jo.  Aim at the highest, and never
mind the money."

"I think the money is the best part of it.  What will you do with
such a fortune?" asked Amy, regarding the magic slip of paper with a
reverential eye.

"Send Beth and Mother to the seaside for a month or two," answered
Jo promptly.

To the seaside they went, after much discussion, and though Beth
didn't come home as plump and rosy as could be desired, she was much
better, while Mrs. March declared she felt ten years younger.  So Jo
was satisfied with the investment of her prize money, and fell to work
with a cheery spirit, bent on earning more of those delightful checks.
She did earn several that year, and began to feel herself a power
in the house, for by the magic of a pen, her 'rubbish' turned into
comforts for them all.  The Duke's Daughter paid the butcher's bill,
A Phantom Hand put down a new carpet, and the Curse of the Coventrys
proved the blessing of the Marches in the way of groceries and gowns.

Wealth is certainly a most desirable thing, but poverty has its
sunny side, and one of the sweet uses of adversity is the genuine
satisfaction which comes from hearty work of head or hand, and to the
inspiration of necessity, we owe half the wise, beautiful, and useful
blessings of the world.  Jo enjoyed a taste of this satisfaction,
and ceased to envy richer girls, taking great comfort in the knowledge
that she could supply her own wants, and need ask no one for a penny.

Little notice was taken of her stories, but they found a market,
and encouraged by this fact, she resolved to make a bold stroke for
fame and fortune.  Having copied her novel for the fourth time, read
it to all her confidential friends, and submitted it with fear and
trembling to three publishers, she at last disposed of it, on condition
that she would cut it down one third, and omit all the parts
which she particularly admired.

"Now I must either bundle it back in to my tin kitchen to mold,
pay for printing it myself, or chop it up to suit purchasers and get
what I can for it.  Fame is a very good thing to have in the house,
but cash is more convenient, so I wish to take the sense of the meeting
on this important subject," said Jo, calling a family council.

"Don't spoil your book, my girl, for there is more in it than
you know, and the idea is well worked out.  Let it wait and ripen,"
was her father's advice, and he practiced what he preached, having
waited patiently thirty years for fruit of his own to ripen, and
being in no haste to gather it even now when it was sweet and mellow.

"It seems to me that Jo will profit more by taking the trial
than by waiting," said Mrs. March.  "Criticism is the best test of
such work, for it will show her both unsuspected merits and faults,
and help her to do better next time.  We are too partial, but the
praise and blame of outsiders will prove useful, even if she gets
but little money."

"Yes," said Jo, knitting her brows, "that's just it.  I've been
fussing over the thing so long, I really don't know whether it's good,
bad, or indifferent.  It will be a great help to have cool, impartial
persons take a look at it, and tell me what they think of it."

"I wouldn't leave a word out of it.  You'll spoil it if you do,
for the interest of the story is more in the minds than in the actions
of the people, and it will be all a muddle if you don't explain as you
go on," said Meg, who firmly believed that this book was the most
remarkable novel ever written.

"But Mr. Allen says, 'Leave out the explanations, make it brief
and dramatic, and let the characters tell the story'," interrupted
Jo, turning to the publisher's note.

"Do as he tells you.  He knows what will sell, and we don't.
Make a good, popular book, and get as much money as you can.
By-and-by, when you've got a name, you can afford to digress,
and have philosophical and metaphysical people in your novels,"
said Amy, who took a strictly practical view of the subject.

"Well," said Jo, laughing, "if my people are 'philosophical and
metaphysical', it isn't my fault, for I know nothing about such
things, except what I hear father say, sometimes.  If I've got some
of his wise ideas jumbled up with my romance, so much the better for
me.  Now, Beth, what do you say?"

"I should so like to see it printed soon," was all Beth said,
and smiled in saying it.  But there was an unconscious emphasis on
the last word, and a wistful look in the eyes that never lost their
childlike candor, which chilled Jo's heart for a minute with a
forboding fear, and decided her to make her little venture 'soon'.

So, with Spartan firmness, the young authoress laid her first-born
on her table, and chopped it up as ruthlessly as any ogre.  In the hope
of pleasing everyone, she took everyone's advice, and like the old man
and his donkey in the fable suited nobody.

Her father liked the metaphysical streak which had unconsciously got
into it, so that was allowed to remain though she had her doubts
about it.  Her mother thought that there was a trifle too much
description.  Out, therefore it came, and with it many necessary
links in the story.  Meg admired the tragedy, so Jo piled up the
agony to suit her, while Amy objected to the fun, and, with the best
intentions in life, Jo quenched the spritly scenes which relieved
the somber character of the story.  Then, to complicate the ruin, she
cut it down one third, and confidingly sent the poor little romance,
like a picked robin, out into the big, busy world to try its fate.

Well, it was printed, and she got three hundred dollars for
it, likewise plenty of praise and blame, both so much greater than
she expected that she was thrown into a state of bewilderment from
which it took her some time to recover.

"You said, Mother, that criticism would help me.  But how can
it, when it's so contradictory that I don't know whether I've written
a promising book or broken all the ten commandments?" cried poor
Jo, turning over a heap of notices, the perusal of which filled her
with pride and joy one minute, wrath and dismay the next.  "This
man says, 'An exquisite book, full of truth, beauty, and earnestness.'
'All is sweet, pure, and healthy.'" continued the perplexed
authoress.  "The next, 'The theory of the book is bad, full of
morbid fancies, spiritualistic ideas, and unnatural characters.'
Now, as I had no theory of any kind, don't believe in Spiritualism,
and copied my characters from life, I don't see how this critic can
be right.  Another says, 'It's one of the best American novels which
has appeared for years.' (I know better than that), and the next
asserts that 'Though it is original, and written with great force
and feeling, it is a dangerous book.' 'Tisn't!  Some make fun of it,
some overpraise, and nearly all insist that I had a deep theory to
expound, when I only wrote it for the pleasure and the money.  I
wish I'd printed the whole or not at all, for I do hate to be so
misjudged."

Her family and friends administered comfort and commendation
liberally.  Yet it was a hard time for sensitive, high-spirited Jo,
who meant so well and had apparently done so ill.  But it did her
good, for those whose opinion had real value gave her the criticism
which is an author's best education, and when the first soreness
was over, she could laugh at her poor little book, yet believe in
it still, and feel herself the wiser and stronger for the buffeting
she had received.

"Not being a genius, like Keats, it won't kill me," she said
stoutly, "and I've got the joke on my side, after all, for the parts
that were taken straight out of real life are denounced as impossible
and absurd, and the scenes that I made up out of my own silly head
are pronounced 'charmingly natural, tender, and true'.  So I'll
comfort myself with that, and when I'm ready, I'll up again and take
another."



CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

DOMESTIC EXPERIENCES

Like most other young matrons, Meg began her married life
with the determination to be a model housekeeper.  John should
find home a paradise, he should always see a smiling face,
should fare sumptuously every day, and never know the loss of
a button.  She brought so much love, energy, and cheerfulness
to the work that she could not but succeed, in spite of some
obstacles.  Her paradise was not a tranquil one, for the little
woman fussed, was over-anxious to please, and bustled about like
a true Martha, cumbered with many cares.  She was too tired, sometimes,
even to smile, John grew dyspeptic after a course of dainty
dishes and ungratefully demanded plain fare.  As for buttons,
she soon learned to wonder where they went, to shake her head over
the carelessness of men, and to threaten to make him sew them
on himself, and see if his work would stand impatient and clumsy
fingers any better than hers.

They were very happy, even after they discovered that they couldn't
live on love alone.  John did not find Meg's beauty diminished,
though she beamed at him from behind the familiar coffee pot.  Nor
did Meg miss any of the romance from the daily parting, when her
husband followed up his kiss with the tender inquiry, "Shall I send
some veal or mutton for dinner, darling?" The little house ceased to
be a glorified bower, but it became a home, and the young couple
soon felt that it was a change for the better.  At first they played
keep-house, and frolicked over it like children.  Then John took
steadily to business, feeling the cares of the head of a family upon
his shoulders, and Meg laid by her cambric wrappers, put on a big
apron, and fell to work, as before said, with more energy than
discretion.

While the cooking mania lasted she went through Mrs. Cornelius's
Receipt Book as if it were a mathematical exercise, working out the
problems with patience and care.  Sometimes her family were invited
in to help eat up a too bounteous feast of successes, or Lotty would
be privately dispatched with a batch of failures, which were to be
concealed from all eyes in the convenient stomachs of the little
Hummels.  An evening with John over the account books usually produced
a temporary lull in the culinary enthusiasm, and a frugal fit
would ensue, during which the poor man was put through a course of
bread pudding, hash, and warmed-over coffee, which tried his soul,
although he bore it with praiseworthy fortitude.  Before the golden
mean was found, however, Meg added to her domestic possessions what
young couples seldom get on long without, a family jar.

Fired a with housewifely wish to see her storeroom stocked with
homemade preserves, she undertook to put up her own currant jelly.
John was requested to order home a dozen or so of little pots and an
extra quantity of sugar, for their own currants were ripe and were
to be attended to at once.  As John firmly believed that 'my wife'
was equal to anything, and took a natural pride in her skill, he
resolved that she should be gratified, and their only crop of fruit
laid by in a most pleasing form for winter use.  Home came four
dozen delightful little pots, half a barrel of sugar, and a small
boy to pick the currants for her.  With her pretty hair tucked into
a little cap, arms bared to the elbow, and a checked apron which
had a coquettish look in spite of the bib, the young housewife fell
to work, feeling no doubts about her success, for hadn't she seen
Hannah do it hundreds of times?  The array of pots rather amazed her
at first, but John was so fond of jelly, and the nice little jars
would look so well on the top shelf, that Meg resolved to fill them
all, and spent a long day picking, boiling, straining, and fussing
over her jelly.  She did her best, she asked advice of Mrs. Cornelius,
she racked her brain to remember what Hannah did that she left
undone, she reboiled, resugared, and restrained, but that dreadful
stuff wouldn't 'jell'.

She longed to run home, bib and all, and ask Mother to lend her
a hand, but John and she had agreed that they would never annoy anyone
with their private worries, experiments, or quarrels.  They had
laughed over that last word as if the idea it suggested was a most
preposterous one, but they had held to their resolve, and whenever
they could get on without help they did so, and no one interfered,
for Mrs. March had advised the plan.  So Meg wrestled alone with the
refractory sweetmeats all that hot summer day, and at five o'clock
sat down in her topsy-turvey kitchen, wrung her bedaubed hands,
lifted up her voice and wept.

Now, in the first flush of the new life, she had often said,
"My husband shall always feel free to bring a friend home whenever
he likes.  I shall always be prepared.  There shall be no flurry, no
scolding, no discomfort, but a neat house, a cheerful wife, and a
good dinner.  John, dear, never stop to ask my leave, invite whom
you please, and be sure of a welcome from me."

How charming that was, to be sure!  John quite glowed with
pride to hear her say it, and felt what a blessed thing it was to
have a superior wife.  But, although they had had company from time
to time, it never happened to be unexpected, and Meg had never had
an opportunity to distinguish herself till now.  It always happens
so in this vale of tears, there is an inevitability about such things
which we can only wonder at, deplore, and bear as we best can.

If John had not forgotten all about the jelly, it really would
have been unpardonable in him to choose that day, of all the days in
the year, to bring a friend home to dinner unexpectedly.  Congratulating
himself that a handsome repast had been ordered that morning,
feeling sure that it would be ready to the minute, and indulging in
pleasant anticipations of the charming effect it would produce, when
his pretty wife came running out to meet him, he escorted his friend
to his mansion, with the irrepressible satisfaction of a young
host and husband.

It is a world of disappointments, as John discovered when he
reached the Dovecote.  The front door usually stood hospitably open.
Now it was not only shut, but locked, and yesterday's mud still
adorned the steps.  The parlor windows were closed and curtained,
no picture of the pretty wife sewing on the piazza, in white, with
a distracting little bow in her hair, or a bright-eyed hostess,
smiling a shy welcome as she greeted her guest.  Nothing of the sort,
for not a soul appeared but a sanginary-looking boy asleep under the
current bushes.

"I'm afraid something has happened.  Step into the garden, Scott,
while I look up Mrs. Brooke," said John, alarmed at the silence and
solitude.

Round the house he hurried, led by a pungent smell of burned
sugar, and Mr. Scott strolled after him, with a queer look on his
face.  He paused discreetly at a distance when Brooke disappeared,
but he could both see and hear, and being a bachelor, enjoyed the
prospect mightily.

In the kitchen reigned confusion and despair.  One edition of
jelly was trickled from pot to pot, another lay upon the floor,
and a third was burning gaily on the stove.  Lotty, with Teutonic
phlegm, was calmly eating bread and currant wine, for the jelly was
still in a hopelessly liquid state, while Mrs. Brooke, with her apron
over her head, sat sobbing dismally.

"My dearest girl, what is the matter?" cried John, rushing in,
with awful visions of scalded hands, sudden news of affliction, and
secret consternation at the thought of the guest in the garden.

"Oh, John, I am so tired and hot and cross and worried!  I've
been at it till I'm all worn out.  Do come and help me or I shall
die!" and the exhausted housewife cast herself upon his breast,
giving him a sweet welcome in every sense of the word, for her
pinafore had been baptized at the same time as the floor.

"What worries you dear?  Has anything dreadful happened?"
asked the anxious John, tenderly kissing the crown of the little
cap, which was all askew.

"Yes," sobbed Meg despairingly.

"Tell me quick, then.  Don't cry.  I can bear anything better
than that.  Out with it, love."

"The . . . The jelly won't jell and I don't know what to do!"

John Brooke laughed then as he never dared to laugh afterward,
and the derisive Scott smiled involuntarily as he heard the hearty
peal, which put the finishing stroke to poor Meg's woe.

"Is that all?  Fling it out of the window, and don't bother any
more about it.  I'll buy you quarts if you want it, but for heaven's
sake don't have hysterics, for I've brought Jack Scott home to dinner,
and . . ."

John got no further, for Meg cast him off, and clasped her hands
with a tragic gesture as she fell into a chair, exclaiming in a tone
of mingled indignation, reproach, and dismay . . .

"A man to dinner, and everything in a mess!  John Brooke, how
could you do such a thing?"

"Hush, he's in the garden!  I forgot the confounded jelly, but
it can't be helped now," said John, surveying the prospect with an
anxious eye.

"You ought to have sent word, or told me this morning, and you
ought to have remembered how busy I was," continued Meg petulantly,
for even turtledoves will peck when ruffled.

"I didn't know it this morning, and there was no time to send
word, for I met him on the way out.  I never thought of asking leave,
when you have always told me to do as I liked.  I never tried it before,
and hang me if I ever do again!" added John, with an aggrieved air.

"I should hope not!  Take him away at once.  I can't see him,
and there isn't any dinner."

"Well, I like that!  Where's the beef and vegetables I sent
home, and the pudding you promised?" cried John, rushing to the
larder.

"I hadn't time to cook anything.  I meant to dine at Mother's.
I'm sorry, but I was so busy," and Meg's tears began again.

John was a mild man, but he was human, and after a long day's
work to come home tired, hungry, and hopeful, to find a chaotic
house, an empty table, and a cross wife was not exactly conducive
to repose of mind or manner.  He restrained himself however, and the
little squall would have blown over, but for one unlucky word.

"It's a scrape, I acknowledge, but if you will lend a hand,
we'll pull through and have a good time yet.  Don't cry, dear, but
just exert yourself a bit, and fix us up something to eat.  We're
both as hungry as hunters, so we shan't mind what it is.  Give us
the cold meat, and bread and cheese.  We won't ask for jelly."

He meant it to be a good-natured joke, but that one word sealed
his fate.  Meg thought it was too cruel to hint about her sad failure,
and the last atom of patience vanished as he spoke.

"You must get yourself out of the scrape as you can.  I'm too
used up to 'exert' myself for anyone.  It's like a man to propose
a bone and vulgar bread and cheese for company.  I won't have anything
of the sort in my house.  Take that Scott up to Mother's, and
tell him I'm away, sick, dead, anything.  I won't see him, and you
two can laugh at me and my jelly as much as you like.  You won't
have anything else here."  and having delivered her defiance all
on one breath, Meg cast away her pinafore and precipitately left the
field to bemoan herself in her own room.

What those two creatures did in her absence, she never knew, but Mr.
Scott was not taken 'up to Mother's', and when Meg descended, after
they had strolled away together, she found traces of a promiscuous
lunch which filled her with horror.  Lotty reported that they had
eaten "a much, and greatly laughed, and the master bid her throw
away all the sweet stuff, and hide the pots."

Meg longed to go and tell Mother, but a sense of shame at her own
short-comings, of loyalty to John, "who might be cruel, but nobody
should know it," restrained her, and after a summary cleaning up,
she dressed herself prettily, and sat down to wait for John to
come and be forgiven.

Unfortunately, John didn't come, not seeing the matter in that
light.  He had carried it off as a good joke with Scott, excused his
little wife as well as he could, and played the host so hospitably
that his friend enjoyed the impromptu dinner, and promised to come
again, but John was angry, though he did not show it, he felt that
Meg had deserted him in his hour of need.  "It wasn't fair to tell
a man to bring folks home any time, with perfect freedom, and when
he took you at your word, to flame up and blame him, and leave him
in the lurch, to be laughed at or pitied.  No, by George, it wasn't!
And Meg must know it."

He had fumed inwardly during the feast, but when the flurry was
over and he strolled home after seeing Scott off, a milder mood came
over him.  "Poor little thing!  It was hard upon her when she tried so
heartily to please me.  She was wrong, of course, but then she was
young.  I must be patient and teach her."  He hoped she had not gone
home--he hated gossip and interference.  For a minute he was ruffled
again at the mere thought of it, and then the fear that Meg would cry
herself sick softened his heart, and sent him on at a quicker pace,
resolving to be calm and kind, but firm, quite firm, and show her
where she had failed in her duty to her spouse.

Meg likewise resolved to be 'calm and kind, but firm', and show
him his duty.  She longed to run to meet him, and beg pardon, and be
kissed and comforted, as she was sure of being, but, of course, she
did nothing of the sort, and when she saw John coming, began to hum
quite naturally, as she rocked and sewed, like a lady of leisure in
her best parlor.

John was a little disappointed not to find a tender Niobe, but
feeling that his dignity demanded the first apology, he made none,
only came leisurely in and laid himself upon the sofa with the
singularly relevant remark, "We are going to have a new moon,
my dear."

"I've no objection," was Meg's equally soothing remark.  A few
other topics of general interest were introduced by Mr. Brooke and
wet-blanketed by Mrs. Brooke, and conversation languished.  John
went to one window, unfolded his paper, and wrapped himself in it,
figuratively speaking.  Meg went to the other window, and sewed as
if new rosettes for slippers were among the necessaries of life.
Neither spoke.  Both looked quite 'calm and firm', and both felt
desperately uncomfortable.

"Oh, dear," thought Meg, "married life is very trying, and
does need infinite patience as well as love, as Mother says."  The
word 'Mother' suggested other maternal counsels given long ago, and
received with unbelieving protests.

"John is a good man, but he has his faults, and you must learn to
see and bear with them, remembering your own.  He is very decided,
but never will be obstinate, if you reason kindly, not oppose
impatiently.  He is very accurate, and particular about the truth--a
good trait, though you call him 'fussy'. Never deceive him by look
or word, Meg, and he will give you the confidence you deserve, the
support you need.  He has a temper, not like ours--one flash and then
all over--but the white, still anger that is seldom stirred, but
once kindled is hard to quench.  Be careful, be very careful, not to
wake his anger against yourself, for peace and happiness depend on
keeping his respect.  Watch yourself, be the first to ask pardon if
you both err, and guard against the little piques,
misunderstandings, and hasty words that often pave the way for
bitter sorrow and regret."

These words came back to Meg, as she sat sewing in the sunset,
especially the last.  This was the first serious disagreement, her
own hasty speeches sounded both silly and unkind, as she recalled
them, her own anger looked childish now, and thoughts of poor John
coming home to such a scene quite melted her heart.  She glanced at
him with tears in her eyes, but he did not see them.  She put down
her work and got up, thinking, "I will be the first to say,
'Forgive me'", but he did not seem to hear her.  She went very slowly
across the room, for pride was hard to swallow, and stood by him,
but he did not turn his head.  For a minute she felt as if she
really couldn't do it, then came the thought, "This is the beginning.
I'll do my part, and have nothing to reproach myself with,"
and stooping down, she softly kissed her husband on the forehead.
Of course that settled it.  The penitent kiss was better than a
world of words, and John had her on his knee in a minute, saying
tenderly . . .

"It was too bad to laugh at the poor little jelly pots.
Forgive me, dear.  I never will again!"

But he did, oh bless you, yes, hundreds of times, and so did
Meg, both declaring that it was the sweetest jelly they ever made,
for family peace was preserved in that little family jar.

After this, Meg had Mr. Scott to dinner by special invitation, and
served him up a pleasant feast without a cooked wife for the first
course, on which occasion she was so gay and gracious, and made
everything go off so charmingly, that Mr. Scott told John he was a
lucky fellow, and shook his head over the hardships of bachelorhood
all the way home.

In the autumn, new trials and experiences came to Meg.  Sallie
Moffat renewed her friendship, was always running out for a dish of
gossip at the little house, or inviting 'that poor dear' to come in
and spend the day at the big house.  It was pleasant, for in dull
weather Meg often felt lonely.  All were busy at home, John absent
till night, and nothing to do but sew, or read, or potter about.  So
it naturally fell out that Meg got into the way of gadding and
gossiping with her friend.  Seeing Sallie's pretty things made her
long for such, and pity herself because she had not got them.  Sallie
was very kind, and often offered her the coveted trifles, but Meg
declined them, knowing that John wouldn't like it, and then this
foolish little woman went and did what John disliked even worse.

She knew her husband's income, and she loved to feel that he trusted
her, not only with his happiness, but what some men seem to value
more--his money.  She knew where it was, was free to take what she
liked, and all he asked was that she should keep account of every
penny, pay bills once a month, and remember that she was a poor
man's wife.  Till now she had done well, been prudent and exact, kept
her little account books neatly, and showed them to him monthly
without fear.  But that autumn the serpent got into Meg's paradise,
and tempted her like many a modern Eve, not with apples, but with
dress.  Meg didn't like to be pitied and made to feel poor.  It
irritated her, but she was ashamed to confess it, and now and then
she tried to console herself by buying something pretty, so that
Sallie needn't think she had to economize.  She always felt wicked
after it, for the pretty things were seldom necessaries, but then
they cost so little, it wasn't worth worrying about, so the trifles
increased unconsciously, and in the shopping excursions she was no
longer a passive looker-on.

But the trifles cost more than one would imagine, and when she
cast up her accounts at the end of the month the sum total rather
scared her.  John was busy that month and left the bills to her, the
next month he was absent, but the third he had a grand quarterly
settling up, and Meg never forgot it.  A few days before she had done
a dreadful thing, and it weighed upon her conscience.  Sallie had
been buying silks, and Meg longed for a new one, just a handsome light
one for parties, her black silk was so common, and thin things for
evening wear were only proper for girls.  Aunt March usually gave the
sisters a present of twenty-five dollars apiece at New Year's.  That
was only a month to wait, and here was a lovely violet silk going at
a bargain, and she had the money, if she only dared to take it.  John
always said what was his was hers, but would he think it right to
spend not only the prospective five-and-twenty, but another
five-and-twenty out of the household fund?  That was the question.
Sallie had urged her to do it, had offered to lend the money, and with
the best intentions in life had tempted Meg beyond her strength.
In an evil moment the shopman held up the lovely, shimmering folds,
and said, "A bargain, I assure, you, ma'am." She answered, "I'll take
it," and it was cut off and paid for, and Sallie had exulted, and she
had laughed as if it were a thing of no consequence, and driven away,
feeling as if she had stolen something, and the police were after her.

When she got home, she tried to assuage the pangs of remorse
by spreading forth the lovely silk, but it looked less silvery now,
didn't become her, after all, and the words 'fifty dollars' seemed
stamped like a pattern down each breadth.  She put it away, but it
haunted her, not delightfully as a new dress should, but dreadfully
like the ghost of a folly that was not easily laid.  When John got
out his books that night, Meg's heart sank, and for the first time
in her married life, she was afraid of her husband.  The kind, brown
eyes looked as if they could be stern, and though he was unusually
merry, she fancied he had found her out, but didn't mean to let her
know it.  The house bills were all paid, the books all in order.
John had praised her, and was undoing the old pocketbook which they
called the 'bank', when Meg, knowing that it was quite empty, stopped
his hand, saying nervously . . .

"You haven't seen my private expense book yet."

John never asked to see it, but she always insisted on his doing so,
and used to enjoy his masculine amazement at the queer things women
wanted, and made him guess what piping was, demand fiercely the
meaning of a hug-me-tight, or wonder how a little thing composed of
three rosebuds, a bit of velvet, and a pair of strings, could
possibly be a bonnet, and cost six dollars.  That night he looked as
if he would like the fun of quizzing her figures and pretending to
be horrified at her extravagance, as he often did, being
particularly proud of his prudent wife.

The little book was brought slowly out and laid down before him.
Meg got behind his chair under pretense of smoothing the wrinkles
out of his tired forehead, and standing there, she said, with her
panic increasing with every word . . .

"John, dear, I'm ashamed to show you my book, for I've really
been dreadfully extravagant lately.  I go about so much I must have
things, you know, and Sallie advised my getting it, so I did, and
my New Year's money will partly pay for it, but I was sorry after
I had done it, for I knew you'd think it wrong in me."

John laughed, and drew her round beside him, saying goodhumoredly,
"Don't go and hide.  I won't beat you if you have got
a pair of killing boots.  I'm rather proud of my wife's feet, and
don't mind if she does pay eight or nine dollars for her boots, if
they are good ones."

That had been one of her last 'trifles', and John's eye had
fallen on it as he spoke.  "Oh, what will he say when he comes to
that awful fifty dollars!" thought Meg, with a shiver.

"It's worse than boots, it's a silk dress," she said, with the
calmness of desperation, for she wanted the worst over.

"Well, dear, what is the 'dem'd total', as Mr. Mantalini says?"

That didn't sound like John, and she knew he was looking up at
her with the straightforward look that she had always been ready to
meet and answer with one as frank till now.  She turned the page and
her head at the same time, pointing to the sum which would have been
bad enough without the fifty, but which was appalling to her with
that added.  For a minute the room was very still, then John said
slowly--but she could feel it cost him an effort to express no
displeasure--. . .

"Well, I don't know that fifty is much for a dress, with all the
furbelows and notions you have to have to finish it off these days."

"It isn't made or trimmed," sighed Meg, faintly, for a sudden
recollection of the cost still to be incurred quite overwhelmed her.

"Twenty-five yards of silk seems a good deal to cover one small
woman, but I've no doubt my wife will look as fine as Ned Moffat's
when she gets it on," said John dryly.

"I know you are angry, John, but I can't help it.  I don't mean
to waste your money, and I didn't think those little things would
count up so.  I can't resist them when I see Sallie buying all she
wants, and pitying me because I don't.  I try to be contented, but
it is hard, and I'm tired of being poor."

The last words were spoken so low she thought he did not hear
them, but he did, and they wounded him deeply, for he had denied
himself many pleasures for Meg's sake.  She could have bitten her
tongue out the minute she had said it, for John pushed the books
away and got up, saying with a little quiver in his voice, "I was
afraid of this.  I do my best, Meg."  If he had scolded her, or
even shaken her, it would not have broken her heart like those few
words.  She ran to him and held him close, crying, with repentant
tears, "Oh, John, my dear, kind, hard-working boy.  I didn't mean
it!  It was so wicked, so untrue and ungrateful, how could I say it!
Oh, how could I say it!"

He was very kind, forgave her readily, and did not utter one
reproach, but Meg knew that she had done and said a thing which
would not be forgotten soon, although he might never allude to it
again.  She had promised to love him for better or worse, and then
she, his wife, had reproached him with his poverty, after spending
his earnings recklessly.  It was dreadful, and the worst of it was
John went on so quietly afterward, just as if nothing had happened,
except that he stayed in town later, and worked at night when she
had gone to cry herself to sleep.  A week of remorse nearly made
Meg sick, and the discovery that John had countermanded the order
for his new greatcoat reduced her to a state of despair which was
pathetic to behold.  He had simply said, in answer to her surprised
inquiries as to the change, "I can't afford it, my dear."

Meg said no more, but a few minutes after he found her in the
hall with her face buried in the old greatcoat, crying as if her
heart would break.

They had a long talk that night, and Meg learned to love her
husband better for his poverty, because it seemed to have made a
man of him, given him the strength and courage to fight his own way,
and taught him a tender patience with which to bear and comfort
the natural longings and failures of those he loved.

Next day she put her pride in her pocket, went to Sallie, told
the truth, and asked her to buy the silk as a favor.  The good-
natured Mrs. Moffat willingly did so, and had the delicacy not to
make her a present of it immediately afterward.  Then Meg ordered
home the greatcoat, and when John arrived, she put it on, and asked
him how he liked her new silk gown.  One can imagine what answer he
made, how he received his present, and what a blissful state of
things ensued.  John came home early, Meg gadded no more, and that
greatcoat was put on in the morning by a very happy husband, and
taken off at night by a most devoted little wife.  So the year
rolled round, and at midsummer there came to Meg a new experience,
the deepest and tenderest of a woman's life.

Laurie came sneaking into the kitchen of the Dovecote one
Saturday, with an excited face, and was received with the clash
of cymbals, for Hannah clapped her hands with a saucepan in one
and the cover in the other.

"How's the little mamma?  Where is everybody?  Why didn't
you tell me before I came home?" began Laurie in a loud whisper.

"Happy as a queen, the dear!  Every soul of 'em is upstairs
a worshipin'.  We didn't want no hurrycanes round.  Now you go
into the parlor, and I'll send 'em down to you," with which
somewhat involved reply Hannah vanished, chuckling ecstatically.

Presently Jo appeared, proudly bearing a flannel bundle laid
forth upon a large pillow.  Jo's face was very sober, but her eyes
twinkled, and there was an odd sound in her voice of repressed
emotion of some sort.

"Shut your eyes and hold out your arms," she said invitingly.

Laurie backed precipitately into a corner, and put his hands
behind him with an imploring gesture.  "No, thank you.  I'd rather
not.  I shall drop it or smash it, as sure as fate."

"Then you shan't see your nevvy," said Jo decidedly, turning
as if to go.

"I will, I will!  Only you must be responsible for damages."
and obeying orders, Laurie heroically shut his eyes while something
was put into his arms.  A peal of laughter from Jo, Amy,
Mrs. March, Hannah, and John caused him to open them the next
minute, to find himself invested with two babies instead of one.

No wonder they laughed, for the expression of his face was
droll enough to convulse a Quaker, as he stood and stared wildly
from the unconscious innocents to the hilarious spectators with
such dismay that Jo sat down on the floor and screamed.

"Twins, by Jupiter!" was all he said for a minute, then
turning to the women with an appealing look that was comically
piteous, he added, "Take 'em quick, somebody!  I'm going to
laugh, and I shall drop 'em."

Jo rescued his babies, and marched up and down, with one on each
arm, as if already initiated into the mysteries of babytending,
while Laurie laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks.

"It's the best joke of the season, isn't it?  I wouldn't have
told you, for I set my heart on surprising you, and I flatter
myself I've done it," said Jo, when she got her breath.

"I never was more staggered in my life.  Isn't it fun?  Are they
boys? What are you going to name them? Let's have another look.  Hold
me up, Jo, for upon my life it's one too many for me," returned
Laurie, regarding the infants with the air of a big, benevolent
Newfoundland looking at a pair of infantile kittens.

"Boy and girl.  Aren't they beauties?" said the proud papa,
beaming upon the little red squirmers as if they were unfledged angels.

"Most remarkable children I ever saw.  Which is which?" and
Laurie bent like a well-sweep to examine the prodigies.

"Amy put a blue ribbon on the boy and a pink on the girl,
French fashion, so you can always tell.  Besides, one has blue
eyes and one brown.  Kiss them, Uncle Teddy," said wicked Jo.

"I'm afraid they mightn't like it," began Laurie, with unusual
timidity in such matters.

"Of course they will, they are used to it now.  Do it this
minute, sir!" commanded Jo, fearing he might propose a proxy.

Laurie screwed up his face and obeyed with a gingerly peck
at each little cheek that produced another laugh, and made the
babies squeal.

"There, I knew they didn't like it!  That's the boy, see
him kick, he hits out with his fists like a good one.  Now then,
young Brooke, pitch into a man of your own size, will you?" cried
Laurie, delighted with a poke in the face from a tiny fist, flapping
aimlessly about.

"He's to be named John Laurence, and the girl Margaret, after
mother and grandmother.  We shall call her Daisey, so as not to
have two Megs, and I suppose the mannie will be Jack, unless we
find a better name," said Amy, with aunt-like interest.

"Name him Demijohn, and call him Demi for short," said Laurie

"Daisy and Demi, just the thing!  I knew Teddy would do it,"
cried Jo clapping her hands.

Teddy certainly had done it that time, for the babies were
'Daisy' and 'Demi' to the end of the chapter.



CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

CALLS

"Come, Jo, it's time."

"For what?"

"You don't mean to say you have forgotten that you promised
to make half a dozen calls with me today?"

"I've done a good many rash and foolish things in my life,
but I don't think I ever was mad enough to say I'd make six calls
in one day, when a single one upsets me for a week."

"Yes, you did, it was a bargain between us.  I was to finish
the crayon of Beth for you, and you were to go properly with me,
and return our neighbors' visits."

"If it was fair, that was in the bond, and I stand to the
letter of my bond, Shylock.  There is a pile of clouds in the east,
it's not fair, and I don't go."

"Now, that's shirking.  It's a lovely day, no prospect of rain,
and you pride yourself on keeping promises, so be honorable, come
and do your duty, and then be at peace for another six months."

At that minute Jo was particularly absorbed in dressmaking,
for she was mantua-maker general to the family, and took especial
credit to herself because she could use a needle as well as a pen.
It was very provoking to be arrested in the act of a first trying-on,
and ordered out to make calls in her best array on a warm July day.
She hated calls of the formal sort, and never made any till Amy
compelled her with a bargain, bribe, or promise.  In the present
instance there was no escape, and having clashed her scissors
rebelliously, while protesting that she smelled thunder, she gave in,
put away her work, and taking up her hat and gloves with an air of
resignation, told Amy the victim was ready.

"Jo March, you are perverse enough to provoke a saint!  You don't
intend to make calls in that state, I hope," cried Amy, surveying
her with amazement.

"Why not?  I'm neat and cool and comfortable, quite proper
for a dusty walk on a warm day.  If people care more for my
clothes than they do for me, I don't wish to see them.  You can
dress for both, and be as elegant as you please.  It pays for
you to be fine.  It doesn't for me, and furbelows only worry me."

"Oh, dear!" sighed Amy, "now she's in a contrary fit, and
will drive me distracted before I can get her properly ready.
I'm sure it's no pleasure to me to go today, but it's a debt we
owe society, and there's no one to pay it but you and me.  I'll
do anything for you, Jo, if you'll only dress yourself nicely,
and come and help me do the civil.  You can talk so well, look
so aristocratic in your best things, and behave so beautifully,
if you try, that I'm proud of you.  I'm afraid to go alone, do
come and take care of me."

"You're an artful little puss to flatter and wheedle your
cross old sister in that way.  The idea of my being aristocratic
and well-bred, and your being afraid to go anywhere alone!  I
don't know which is the most absurd.  Well, I'll go if I must,
and do my best.  You shall be commander of the expedition, and
I'll obey blindly, will that satisfy you?" said Jo, with a sudden
change from perversity to lamblike submission.

"You're a perfect cherub!  Now put on all your best things,
and I'll tell you how to behave at each place, so that you will
make a good impression.  I want people to like you, and they
would if you'd only try to be a little more agreeable.  Do your
hair the pretty way, and put the pink rose in your bonnet.  It's
becoming, and you look too sober in your plain suit.  Take your
light gloves and the embroidered handkerchief.  We'll stop at
Meg's, and borrow her white sunshade, and then you can have my
dove-colored one."

While Amy dressed, she issued her orders, and Jo obeyed
them, not without entering her protest, however, for she sighed
as she rustled into her new organdie, frowned darkly at herself
as she tied her bonnet strings in an irreproachable bow,
wrestled viciously with pins as she put on her collar,
wrinkled up her features generally as she shook out the handkerchief,
whose embroidery was as irritating to her nose as the present mission
was to her feelings, and when she had squeezed her hands into
tight gloves with three buttons and a tassel, as the last touch
of elegance, she turned to Amy with an imbecile expression of
countenance, saying meekly . . .

"I'm perfectly miserable, but if you consider me presentable,
I die happy."

"You're highly satisfactory.  Turn slowly round, and let me get a
careful view." Jo revolved, and Amy gave a touch here and there,
then fell back, with her head on one side, observing graciously,
"Yes, you'll do.  Your head is all I could ask, for that white bonnet
with the rose is quite ravishing.  Hold back your shoulders, and
carry your hands easily, no matter if your gloves do pinch.  There's
one thing you can do well, Jo, that is, wear a shawl.  I can't, but
it's very nice to see you, and I'm so glad Aunt March gave you that
lovely one.  It's simple, but handsome, and those folds over the arm
are really artistic.  Is the point of my mantle in the middle, and
have I looped my dress evenly? I like to show my boots, for my feet
are pretty, though my nose isn't."

"You are a thing of beauty and a joy forever," said Jo, looking
through her hand with the air of a connoisseur at the blue feather
against the golden hair.  "Am I to drag my best dress through the
dust, or loop it up, please, ma'am?"

"Hold it up when you walk, but drop it in the house.  The
sweeping style suits you best, and you must learn to trail your
skirts gracefully.  You haven't half buttoned one cuff, do it at
once.  You'll never look finished if you are not careful about the
little details, for they make up the pleasing whole."

Jo sighed, and proceeded to burst the buttons off her glove,
in doing up her cuff, but at last both were ready, and sailed away,
looking as 'pretty as picters', Hannah said, as she hung out of the
upper window to watch them.

"Now, Jo dear, the Chesters consider themselves very elegant
people, so I want you to put on your best deportment.  Don't make
any of your abrupt remarks, or do anything odd, will you?  Just be
calm, cool, and quiet, that's safe and ladylike, and you can easily
do it for fifteen minutes," said Amy, as they approached the first
place, having borrowed the white parasol and been inspected by Meg,
with a baby on each arm.

"Let me see.  'Calm, cool, and quiet', yes, I think I can
promise that.  I've played the part of a prim young lady on the
stage, and I'll try it off.  My powers are great, as you shall see,
so be easy in your mind, my child."

Amy looked relieved, but naughty Jo took her at her word, for
during the first call she sat with every limb gracefully
composed, every fold correctly draped, calm as a summer sea, cool
as a snowbank, and as silent as the sphinx.  In vain Mrs. Chester
alluded to her 'charming novel', and the Misses Chester
introduced parties, picnics, the opera, and the fashions.  Each
and all were answered by a smile, a bow, and a demure "Yes" or
"No" with the chill on.  In vain Amy telegraphed the word 'talk',
tried to draw her out, and administered covert pokes with her
foot.  Jo sat as if blandly unconscious of it all, with deportment
like Maud's face, 'icily regular, splendidly null'.

"What a haughty, uninteresting creature that oldest Miss March is!"
was the unfortunately audible remark of one of the ladies, as
the door closed upon their guests.  Jo laughed noiselessly all
through the hall, but Amy looked disgusted at the failure of her
instructions, and very naturally laid the blame upon Jo.

"How could you mistake me so?  I merely meant you to be properly
dignified and composed, and you made yourself a perfect stock and
stone.  Try to be sociable at the Lambs'.  Gossip as other girls do,
and be interested in dress and flirtations and whatever nonsense
comes up.  They move in the best society, are valuable persons for
us to know, and I wouldn't fail to make a good impression there for
anything."

"I'll be agreeable.  I'll gossip and giggle, and have horrors
and raptures over any trifle you like.  I rather enjoy this, and
now I'll imitate what is called 'a charming girl'.  I can do it,
for I have May Chester as a model, and I'll improve upon her.  See if
the Lambs don't say, 'What a lively, nice creature that Jo March is!"

Amy felt anxious, as well she might, for when Jo turned freakish
there was no knowing where she would stop.  Amy's face was a
study when she saw her sister skim into the next drawing room, kiss
all the young ladies with effusion, beam graciously upon the young
gentlemen, and join in the chat with a spirit which amazed the beholder.
Amy was taken possession of by Mrs. Lamb, with whom she
was a favorite, and forced to hear a long account of Lucretia's
last attack, while three delightful young gentlemen hovered near,
waiting for a pause when they might rush in and rescue her.  So
situated, she was powerless to check Jo, who seemed possessed by
a spirit of mischief, and talked away as volubly as the lady.  A
knot of heads gathered about her, and Amy strained her ears to hear
what was going on, for broken sentences filled her with curiosity,
and frequent peals of laughter made her wild to share the fun.  One
may imagine her suffering on overhearing fragments of this sort of
conversation.

"She rides splendidly.  Who taught her?"

"No one.  She used to practice mounting, holding the reins, and
sitting straight on an old saddle in a tree.  Now she rides anything,
for she doesn't know what fear is, and the stableman lets her have
horses cheap because she trains them to carry ladies so well.  She
has such a passion for it, I often tell her if everything else fails,
she can be a horsebreaker, and get her living so."

At this awful speech Amy contained herself with difficulty, for
the impression was being given that she was rather a fast young lady,
which was her especial aversion.  But what could she do?  For the
old lady was in the middle of her story, and long before it was done,
Jo was off again, making more droll revelations and committing still
more fearful blunders.

"Yes, Amy was in despair that day, for all the good beasts were
gone, and of three left, one was lame, one blind, and the other so
balky that you had to put dirt in his mouth before he would start.
Nice animal for a pleasure party, wasn't it?"

"Which did she choose?" asked one of the laughing gentlemen,
who enjoyed the subject.

"None of them.  She heard of a young horse at the farm house
over the river, and though a lady had never ridden him, she resolved
to try, because he was handsome and spirited.  Her struggles
were really pathetic.  There was no one to bring the horse to the
saddle, so she took the saddle to the horse.  My dear creature, she
actually rowed it over the river, put it on her head, and marched
up to the barn to the utter amazement of the old man!"

"Did she ride the horse?"

"Of course she did, and had a capital time.  I expected to see
her brought home in fragments, but she managed him perfectly, and
was the life of the party."

"Well, I call that plucky!" and young Mr. Lamb turned an approving
glance upon Amy, wondering what his mother could be saying to make
the girl look so red and uncomfortable.

She was still redder and more uncomfortable a moment after,
when a sudden turn in the conversation introduced the subject of
dress.  One of the young ladies asked Jo where she got the pretty
drab hat she wore to the picnic and stupid Jo, instead of mentioning
the place where it was bought two years ago, must needs answer
with unnecessary frankness, "Oh, Amy painted it.  You can't buy
those soft shades, so we paint ours any color we like.  It's a great
comfort to have an artistic sister."

"Isn't that an original idea?" cried Miss Lamb, who found Jo great fun.

"That's nothing compared to some of her brilliant performances.
There's nothing the child can't do.  Why, she wanted a pair of blue
boots for Sallie's party, so she just painted her soiled white ones
the loveliest shade of sky blue you ever saw, and they looked
exactly like satin," added Jo, with an air of pride in her sister's
accomplishments that exasperated Amy till she felt that it would be
a relief to throw her cardcase at her.

"We read a story of yours the other day, and enjoyed it very much,"
observed the elder Miss Lamb, wishing to compliment the literary
lady, who did not look the character just then, it must be confessed.

Any mention of her 'works' always had a bad effect upon Jo,
who either grew rigid and looked offended, or changed the subject
with a brusque remark, as now.  "Sorry you could find nothing better
to read.  I write that rubbish because it sells, and ordinary people
like it.  Are you going to New York this winter?"

As Miss Lamb had 'enjoyed' the story, this speech was not exactly
grateful or complimentary.  The minute it was made Jo saw her
mistake, but fearing to make the matter worse, suddenly remembered
that it was for her to make the first move toward departure, and did
so with an abruptness that left three people with half-finished
sentences in their mouths.

"Amy, we must go.  Good-by, dear, do come and see us.  We are
pining for a visit.  I don't dare to ask you, Mr. Lamb, but if you
should come, I don't think I shall have the heart to send you away."

Jo said this with such a droll imitation of May Chester's
gushing style that Amy got out of the room as rapidly as possible,
feeling a strong desire to laugh and cry at the same time.

"Didn't I do well?" asked Jo, with a satisfied air as they walked away.

"Nothing could have been worse," was Amy's crushing reply.
"What possessed you to tell those stories about my saddle, and
the hats and boots, and all the rest of it?"

"Why, it's funny, and amuses people.  They know we are poor,
so it's no use pretending that we have grooms, buy three or
four hats a season, and have things as easy and fine as they do."

"You needn't go and tell them all our little shifts, and
expose our poverty in that perfectly unnecessary way.  You haven't
a bit of proper pride, and never will learn when to hold your
tongue and when to speak," said Amy despairingly.

Poor Jo looked abashed, and silently chafed the end of her
nose with the stiff handkerchief, as if performing a penance for
her misdemeanors.

"How shall I behave here?" she asked, as they approached the
third mansion.

"Just as you please.  I wash my hands of you," was Amy's short
answer.

"Then I'll enjoy myself.  The boys are at home, and we'll have
a comfortable time.  Goodness knows I need a little change, for
elegance has a bad effect upon my constitution," returned Jo gruffly,
being disturbed by her failure to suit.

An enthusiastic welcome from three big boys and several pretty
children speedily soothed her ruffled feelings, and leaving Amy to
entertain the hostess and Mr. Tudor, who happened to be calling
likewise, Jo devoted herself to the young folks and found the
change refreshing.  She listened to college stories with deep interest,
caressed pointers and poodles without a murmur, agreed heartily
that "Tom Brown was a brick," regardless of the improper form
of praise, and when one lad proposed a visit to his turtle tank,
she went with an alacrity which caused Mamma to smile upon her,
as that motherly lady settled the cap which was left in a ruinous
condition by filial hugs, bearlike but affectionate, and dearer to
her than the most faultless coiffure from the hands of an inspired
Frenchwoman.

Leaving her sister to her own devices, Amy proceeded to enjoy
herself to her heart's content.  Mr. Tudor's uncle had married an
English lady who was third cousin to a living lord, and Amy regarded
the whole family with great respect, for in spite of her American
birth and breeding, she possessed that reverence for titles which
haunts the best of us--that unacknowledged loyalty to the early
faith in kings which set the most democratic nation under the sun
in ferment at the coming of a royal yellow-haired laddie, some years
ago, and which still has something to do with the love the young
country bears the old, like that of a big son for an imperious little
mother, who held him while she could, and let him go with a farewell
scolding when he rebelled.  But even the satisfaction of talking with
a distant connection of the British nobility did not render Amy forgetful
of time, and when the proper number of minutes had passed, she
reluctantly tore herself from this aristocratic society, and looked
about for Jo, fervently hoping that her incorrigible sister would not
be found in any position which should bring disgrace upon the name of
March.

It might have been worse, but Amy considered it bad.  For Jo
sat on the grass, with an encampment of boys about her, and a
dirty-footed dog reposing on the skirt of her state and festival dress,
as she related one of Laurie's pranks to her admiring audience.  One
small child was poking turtles with Amy's cherished parasol, a second
was eating gingerbread over Jo's best bonnet, and a third playing
ball with her gloves, but all were enjoying themselves, and when Jo
collected her damaged property to go, her escort accompanied her,
begging her to come again, "It was such fun to hear about Laurie's 
larks."

"Capital boys, aren't they?  I feel quite young and brisk again
after that." said Jo, strolling along with her hands behind her,
partly from habit, partly to conceal the bespattered parasol.

"Why do you always avoid Mr. Tudor?" asked Amy, wisely refraining
from any comment upon Jo's dilapidated appearance.

"Don't like him, he puts on airs, snubs his sisters, worries
his father, and doesn't speak respectfully of his mother.  Laurie
says he is fast, and I don't consider him a desirable acquaintance,
so I let him alone."

"You might treat him civilly, at least.  You gave him a cool
nod, and just now you bowed and smiled in the politest way to
Tommy Chamberlain, whose father keeps a grocery store.  If you
had just reversed the nod and the bow, it would have been right,"
said Amy reprovingly.

"No, it wouldn't," returned Jo, "I neither like, respect, nor
admire Tudor, though his grandfather's uncle's nephew's niece was
a third cousin to a lord.  Tommy is poor and bashful and good and
very clever.  I think well of him, and like to show that I do, for
he is a gentleman in spite of the brown paper parcels."

"It's no use trying to argue with you," began Amy.

"Not the least, my dear," interrupted Jo, "so let us look
amiable, and drop a card here, as the Kings are evidently out,
for which I'm deeply grateful."

The family cardcase having done its duty the girls walked
on, and Jo uttered another thanksgiving on reaching the fifth
house, and being told that the young ladies were engaged.

"Now let us go home, and never mind Aunt March today.  We
can run down there any time, and it's really a pity to trail
through the dust in our best bibs and tuckers, when we are
tired and cross."

"Speak for yourself, if you please.  Aunt March likes to have us
pay her the compliment of coming in style, and making a formal call.
It's a little thing to do, but it gives her pleasure, and I don't
believe it will hurt your things half so much as letting dirty dogs
and clumping boys spoil them.  Stoop down, and let me take the
crumbs off of your bonnet."

"What a good girl you are, Amy!" said Jo, with a repentant
glance from her own damaged costume to that of her sister, which
was fresh and spotless still.  "I wish it was as easy for me to do
little things to please people as it is for you.  I think of them,
but it takes too much time to do them, so I wait for a chance to
confer a great favor, and let the small ones slip, but they tell
best in the end, I fancy."

Amy smiled and was mollified at once, saying with a maternal
air, "Women should learn to be agreeable, particularly poor ones,
for they have no other way of repaying the kindnesses they receive.
If you'd remember that, and practice it, you'd be better liked
than I am, because there is more of you."

"I'm a crotchety old thing, and always shall be, but I'm
willing to own that you are right, only it's easier for me to
risk my life for a person than to be pleasant to him when I don't
feel like it.  It's a great misfortune to have such strong likes
and dislikes, isn't it?"

"It's a greater not to be able to hide them.  I don't mind
saying that I don't approve of Tudor any more than you do, but I'm
not called upon to tell him so.  Neither are you, and there is no
use in making yourself disagreeable because he is."

"But I think girls ought to show when they disapprove of
young men, and how can they do it except by their manners?
Preaching does not do any good, as I know to my sorrow, since I've
had Teddie to manage.  But there are many little ways in which I can
influence him without a word, and I say we ought to do it to others
if we can."

"Teddy is a remarkable boy, and can't be taken as a sample
of other boys," said Amy, in a tone of solemn conviction, which
would have convulsed the 'remarkable boy' if he had heard it.  "If
we were belles, or women of wealth and position, we might do something,
perhaps, but for us to frown at one set of young gentlemen because
we don't approve of them, and smile upon another set because
we do, wouldn't have a particle of effect, and we should
only be considered odd and puritanical."

"So we are to countenance things and people which we detest,
merely because we are not belles and millionaires, are we?
That's a nice sort of morality."

"I can't argue about it, I only know that it's the way of
the world, and people who set themselves against it only get
laughed at for their pains.  I don't like reformers, and I hope
you never try to be one."

"I do like them, and I shall be one if I can, for in spite of
the laughing the world would never get on without them.  We can't
agree about that, for you belong to the old set, and I to the new.
You will get on the best, but I shall have the liveliest time of it.
I should rather enjoy the brickbats and hooting, I think."

"Well, compose yourself now, and don't worry Aunt with your
new ideas."

"I'll try not to, but I'm always possessed to burst out with
some particularly blunt speech or revolutionary sentiment before
her.  It's my doom, and I can't help it."

They found Aunt Carrol with the old lady, both absorbed in
some very interesting subject, but they dropped it as the girls
came in, with a conscious look which betrayed that they had been
talking about their nieces.  Jo was not in a good humor, and the
perverse fit returned, but Amy, who had virtuously done her duty,
kept her temper and pleased everybody, was in a most angelic frame
of mind.  This amiable spirit was felt at once, and both aunts 'my
deared' her affectionately, looking what they afterward said 
emphatically, "That child improves every day."

"Are you going to help about the fair, dear?" asked Mrs. Carrol,
as Amy sat down beside her with the confiding air elderly people like
so well in the young.

"Yes, Aunt.  Mrs. Chester asked me if I would, and I offered to
tend a table, as I have nothing but my time to give."

"I'm not," put in Jo decidedly.  "I hate to be patronized, and
the Chesters think it's a great favor to allow us to help with their
highly connected fair.  I wonder you consented, Amy, they only want
you to work."

"I am willing to work.  It's for the freedmen as well as the
Chesters, and I think it very kind of them to let me share the
labor and the fun.  Patronage does not trouble me when it is well
meant."

"Quite right and proper.  I like your grateful spirit, my dear.
It's a pleasure to help people who appreciate our efforts.  Some do
not, and that is trying," observed Aunt March, looking over her
spectacles at Jo, who sat apart, rocking herself, with a somewhat
morose expression.

If Jo had only known what a great happiness was wavering in
the balance for one of them, she would have turned dove-like in a
minute, but unfortunately, we don't have windows in our breasts,
and cannot see what goes on in the minds of our friends.  Better
for us that we cannot as a general thing, but now and then it
would be such a comfort, such a saving of time and temper.  By her
next speech, Jo deprived herself of several years of pleasure, and
received a timely lesson in the art of holding her tongue.

"I don't like favors, they oppress and make me feel like a
slave.  I'd rather do everything for myself, and be perfectly
independent."

"Ahem!" coughed Aunt Carrol softly, with a look at Aunt March.

"I told you so," said Aunt March, with a decided nod to Aunt Carrol.

Mercifully unconscious of what she had done, Jo sat with her nose in
the air, and a revolutionary aspect which was anything but inviting.

"Do you speak French, dear?" asked Mrs. Carrol, laying a hand on Amy's.

"Pretty well, thanks to Aunt March, who lets Esther talk to
me as often as I like," replied Amy, with a grateful look, which
caused the old lady to smile affably.

"How are you about languages?" asked Mrs. Carrol of Jo.

"Don't know a word.  I'm very stupid about studying anything,
can't bear French, it's such a slippery, silly sort of language,"
was the brusque reply.

Another look passed between the ladies, and Aunt March said
to Amy, "You are quite strong and well now, dear, I believe?  Eyes
don't trouble you any more, do they?"

"Not at all, thank you, ma'am.  I'm very well, and mean to do
great things next winter, so that I may be ready for Rome, whenever
that joyful time arrives."

"Good girl!  You deserve to go, and I'm sure you will some
day," said Aunt March, with an approving pat on the head, as Amy
picked up her ball for her.

    Crosspatch, draw the latch,
    Sit by the fire and spin,

squalled Polly, bending down from his perch on the back of her
chair to peep into Jo's face, with such a comical air of impertinent
inquiry that it was impossible to help laughing.

"Most observing bird," said the old lady.

"Come and take a walk, my dear?" cried Polly, hopping toward
the china closet, with a look suggestive of a lump of sugar.

"Thank you, I will.  Come Amy." and Jo brought the visit to
an end, feeling more strongly than ever that calls did have a bad
effect upon her constitution.  She shook hands in a gentlemanly
manner, but Amy kissed both the aunts, and the girls departed,
leaving behind them the impression of shadow and sunshine, which
impression caused Aunt March to say, as they vanished . . .

"You'd better do it, Mary.  I'll supply the money." and Aunt
Carrol to reply decidedly, "I certainly will, if her father and
mother consent."


CHAPTER THIRTY

CONSEQUENCES

Mrs. Chester's fair was so very elegant and select that it was
considered a great honor by the young ladies of the neighborhood to
be invited to take a table, and everyone was much interested in the
matter.  Amy was asked, but Jo was not, which was fortunate for all
parties, as her elbows were decidedly akimbo at this period of her
life, and it took a good many hard knocks to teach her how to get on
easily.  The 'haughty, uninteresting creature' was let severely
alone, but Amy's talent and taste were duly complimented by the
offer of the art table, and she exerted herself to prepare and
secure appropriate and valuable contributions to it.

Everything went on smoothly till the day before the fair
opened, then there occurred one of the little skirmishes which
it is almost impossible to avoid, when some five-and-twenty
women, old and young, with all their private piques and prejudices,
try to work together.

May Chester was rather jealous of Amy because the latter was a
greater favorite than herself, and just at this time several
trifling circumstances occurred to increase the feeling.  Amy's
dainty pen-and-ink work entirely eclipsed May's painted vases--that
was one thorn.  Then the all conquering Tudor had danced four times
with Amy at a late party and only once with May--that was thorn
number two.  But the chief grievance that rankled in her soul, and
gave an excuse for her unfriendly conduct, was a rumor which some
obliging gossip had whispered to her, that the March girls had made
fun of her at the Lambs'. All the blame of this should have fallen
upon Jo, for her naughty imitation had been too lifelike to escape
detection, and the frolicsome Lambs had permitted the joke to
escape.  No hint of this had reached the culprits, however, and Amy's
dismay can be imagined, when, the very evening before the fair, as
she was putting the last touches to her pretty table, Mrs. Chester,
who, of course, resented the supposed ridicule of her daughter,
said, in a bland tone, but with a cold look . . .

"I find, dear, that there is some feeling among the young
ladies about my giving this table to anyone but my girls.  As
this is the most prominent, and some say the most attractive
table of all, and they are the chief getters-up of the fair, it
is thought best for them to take this place.  I'm sorry, but I
know you are too sincerely interested in the cause to mind a
little personal disappointment, and you shall have another table
if you like."

Mrs. Chester fancied beforehand that it would be easy to
deliver this little speech, but when the time came, she found
it rather difficult to utter it naturally, with Amy's unsuspicious
eyes looking straight at her full of surprise and trouble.

Amy felt that there was something behind this, but could
not guess what, and said quietly, feeling hurt, and showing that
she did, "Perhaps you had rather I took no table at all?"

"Now, my dear, don't have any ill feeling, I beg.  It's merely a
matter of expediency, you see, my girls will naturally take the
lead, and this table is considered their proper place.  I think it
very appropriate to you, and feel very grateful for your efforts to
make it so pretty, but we must give up our private wishes, of
course, and I will see that you have a good place elsewhere.
Wouldn't you like the flower table? The little girls undertook it,
but they are discouraged.  You could make a charming thing of it, and
the flower table is always attractive you know."

"Especially to gentlemen," added May, with a look which enlightened
Amy as to one cause of her sudden fall from favor.  She colored
angrily, but took no other notice of that girlish sarcasm,
and answered with unexpected amiability . . .

"It shall be as you please, Mrs. Chester.  I'll give up my
place here at once, and attend to the flowers, if you like."

"You can put your own things on your own table, if you prefer,"
began May, feeling a little conscience-stricken, as she looked at
the pretty racks, the painted shells, and quaint illuminations Amy
had so carefully made and so gracefully arranged.  She meant it
kindly, but Amy mistook her meaning, and said quickly . . .

"Oh, certainly, if they are in your way," and sweeping her
contributions into her apron, pell-mell, she walked off, feeling
that herself and her works of art had been insulted past forgiveness.

"Now she's mad.  Oh, dear, I wish I hadn't asked you to speak,  Mama,"
said May, looking disconsolately at the empty spaces on her table.

"Girls' quarrels are soon over," returned her mother, feeling
a trifle ashamed of her own part in this one, as well she might.

The little girls hailed Amy and her treasures with delight,
which cordial reception somewhat soothed her perturbed spirit, and
she fell to work, determined to succeed florally, if she could not
artistically.  But everything seemed against her.  It was late, and
she was tired.  Everyone was too busy with their own affairs to help
her, and the little girls were only hindrances, for the dears fussed
and chattered like so many magpies, making a great deal of confusion
in their artless efforts to preserve the most perfect order.  The
evergreen arch wouldn't stay firm after she got it up, but wiggled
and threatened to tumble down on her head when the hanging baskets
were filled.  Her best tile got a splash of water, which left a sepia
tear on the Cupid's cheek.  She bruised her hands with hammering, and
got cold working in a draft, which last affliction filled her with
apprehensions for the morrow.  Any girl reader who has suffered like
afflictions will sympathize with poor Amy and wish her well through
her task.

There was great indignation at home when she told her story
that evening.  Her mother said it was a shame, but told her she
had done right.  Beth declared she wouldn't go to the fair at all,
and Jo demanded why she didn't take all her pretty things and leave
those mean people to get on without her.

"Because they are mean is no reason why I should be.  I hate
such things, and though I think I've a right to be hurt, I don't
intend to show it.  They will feel that more than angry speeches
or huffy actions, won't they, Marmee?"

"That's the right spirit, my dear.  A kiss for a blow is always
best, though it's not very easy to give it sometimes," said her
mother, with the air of one who had learned the difference between
preaching and practicing.

In spite of various very natural temptations to resent and
retaliate, Amy adhered to her resolution all the next day, bent
on conquering her enemy by kindness.  She began well, thanks to a
silent reminder that came to her unexpectedly, but most opportunely.
As she arranged her table that morning, while the little girls were
in the anteroom filling the baskets, she took up her pet production,
a little book, the antique cover of which her father had found among
his treasures, and in which on leaves of vellum she had beautifully
illuminated different texts.  As she turned the pages rich in dainty
devices with very pardonable pride, her eye fell upon one verse that
made her stop and think.  Framed in a brilliant scrollwork of scarlet,
blue and gold, with little spirits of good will helping one another
up and down among the thorns and flowers, were the words, "Thou shalt
love thy neighbor as thyself."

"I ought, but I don't," thought Amy, as her eye went from the
bright page to May's discontented face behind the big vases, that
could not hide the vacancies her pretty work had once filled.  Amy
stood a minute, turning the leaves in her hand, reading on each some
sweet rebuke for all heartburnings and uncharitableness of spirit.
Many wise and true sermons are preached us every day by unconscious
ministers in street, school, office, or home.  Even a fair table
may become a pulpit, if it can offer the good and helpful words
which are never out of season.  Amy's conscience preached her a
little sermon from that text, then and there, and she did what many
of us do not always do, took the sermon to heart, and straightway
put it in practice.

A group of girls were standing about May's table, admiring
the pretty things, and talking over the change of saleswomen.  They
dropped their voices, but Amy knew they were speaking of her, hearing
one side of the story and judging accordingly.  It was not pleasant,
but a better spirit had come over her, and presently a chance
offered for proving it.  She heard May say sorrowfully . . .

"It's too bad, for there is no time to make other things, and
I don't want to fill up with odds and ends.  The table was just
complete then.  Now it's spoiled."

"I dare say she'd put them back if you asked her," suggested
someone.

"How could I after all the fuss?" began May, but she did not
finish, for Amy's voice came across the hall, saying pleasantly . . .

"You may have them, and welcome, without asking, if you want
them.  I was just thinking I'd offer to put them back, for they
belong to your table rather than mine.  Here they are, please take
them, and forgive me if I was hasty in carrying them away last night."

As she spoke, Amy returned her contribution, with a nod and a
smile, and hurried away again, feeling that it was easier to do a
friendly thing than it was to stay and be thanked for it.

"Now, I call that lovely of her, don't you?" cried one girl.

May's answer was inaudible, but another young lady, whose
temper was evidently a little soured by making lemonade, added,
with a disagreeable laugh, "Very lovely, for she knew she wouldn't
sell them at her own table."

Now, that was hard.  When we make little sacrifices we like
to have them appreciated, at least, and for a minute Amy was sorry
she had done it, feeling that virtue was not always its own reward.
But it is, as she presently discovered, for her spirits began to
rise, and her table to blossom under her skillful hands, the girls
were very kind, and that one little act seemed to have cleared the
atmosphere amazingly.

It was a very long day and a hard one for Amy, as she sat behind
her table, often quite alone, for the little girls deserted
very soon.  Few cared to buy flowers in summer, and her bouquets
began to droop long before night.

The art table was the most attractive in the room.  There was
a crowd about it all day long, and the tenders were constantly flying
to and fro with important faces and rattling money boxes.  Amy
often looked wistfully across, longing to be there, where she felt
at home and happy, instead of in a corner with nothing to do.  It
might seem no hardship to some of us, but to a pretty, blithe young
girl, it was not only tedious, but very trying, and the thought of
Laurie and his friends made it a real martyrdom.

She did not go home till night, and then she looked so pale
and quiet that they knew the day had been a hard one, though she
made no complaint, and did not even tell what she had done.  Her
mother gave her an extra cordial cup of tea.  Beth helped her dress,
and made a charming little wreath for her hair, while Jo astonished
her family by getting herself up with unusual care, and hinting
darkly that the tables were about to be turned.

"Don't do anything rude, pray Jo; I won't have any fuss made,
so let it all pass and behave yourself," begged Amy, as she departed
early, hoping to find a reinforcement of flowers to refresh her poor
little table.

"I merely intend to make myself entrancingly agreeable to every
one I know, and to keep them in your corner as long as possible.
Teddy and his boys will lend a hand, and we'll have a good time yet."
returned Jo, leaning over the gate to watch for Laurie.  Presently
the familiar tramp was heard in the dusk, and she ran out to meet him.

"Is that my boy?"

"As sure as this is my girl!" and Laurie tucked her hand under
his arm with the air of a man whose every wish was gratified.

"Oh, Teddy, such doings!" and Jo told Amy's wrongs with sisterly zeal.

"A flock of our fellows are going to drive over by-and-by, and
I'll be hanged if I don't make them buy every flower she's got, and
camp down before her table afterward," said Laurie, espousing her
cause with warmth.

"The flowers are not at all nice, Amy says, and the fresh ones
may not arrive in time.  I don't wish to be unjust or suspicious, but
I shouldn't wonder if they never came at all.  When people do one
mean thing they are very likely to do another," observed Jo in a
disgusted tone.

"Didn't Hayes give you the best out of our gardens? I told him to."

"I didn't know that, he forgot, I suppose, and, as your grandpa was
poorly, I didn't like to worry him by asking, though I did want some."

"Now, Jo, how could you think there was any need of asking?
They are just as much yours as mine.  Don't we always go halves
in everything?" began Laurie, in the tone that always made Jo
turn thorny.

"Gracious, I hope not!  Half of some of your things wouldn't
suit me at all.  But we mustn't stand philandering here.  I've got
to help Amy, so you go and make yourself splendid, and if you'll
be so very kind as to let Hayes take a few nice flowers up to the
Hall, I'll bless you forever."

"Couldn't you do it now?" asked Laurie, so suggestively that
Jo shut the gate in his face with inhospitable haste, and called
through the bars, "Go away, Teddy, I'm busy."

Thanks to the conspirators, the tables were turned that night,
for Hayes sent up a wilderness of flowers, with a loverly basket
arranged in his best manner for a centerpiece.  Then the March family
turned out en masse, and Jo exerted herself to some purpose, for
people not only came, but stayed, laughing at her nonsense, admiring
Amy's taste, and apparently enjoying themselves very much.  Laurie
and his friends gallantly threw themselves into the breach, bought
up the bouquets, encamped before the table, and made that corner
the liveliest spot in the room.  Amy was in her element now, and out
of gratitude, if nothing more, was as spritely and gracious as possible,
coming to the conclusion, about that time, that virtue was
its own reward, after all.

Jo behaved herself with exemplary propriety, and when Amy was
happily surrounded by her guard of honor, Jo circulated about the
Hall, picking up various bits of gossip, which enlightened her upon
the subject of the Chester change of base.  She reproached herself
for her share of the ill feeling and resolved to exonerate Amy as
soon as possible.  She also discovered what Amy had done about the
things in the morning, and considered her a model of magnanimity.  As
she passed the art table, she glanced over it for her sister's
things, but saw no sign of them.  "Tucked away out of sight, I dare
say," thought Jo, who could forgive her own wrongs, but hotly resented
any insult offered her family.

"Good evening, Miss Jo.  How does Amy get on?" asked May with
a conciliatory air, for she wanted to show that she also could be
generous.

"She has sold everything she had that was worth selling, and now she
is enjoying herself.  The flower table is always attractive, you
know, 'especially to gentlemen'." Jo couldn't resist giving that
little slap, but May took it so meekly she regretted it a minute
after, and fell to praising the great vases, which still remained
unsold.

"Is Amy's illumination anywhere about?  I took a fancy to
buy that for Father," said Jo, very anxious to learn the fate of
her sister's work.

"Everything of Amy's sold long ago.  I took care that the
right people saw them, and they made a nice little sum of money
for us," returned May, who had overcome sundry small temptations,
as well as Amy had, that day.

Much gratified, Jo rushed back to tell the good news, and
Amy looked both touched and surprised by the report of May's
word and manner.

"Now, gentlemen, I want you to go and do your duty by the
other tables as generously as you have by mine, especially the
art table," she said, ordering out 'Teddy's own', as the girls
called the college friends.

"'Charge, Chester, charge!' is the motto for that table, but
do your duty like men, and you'll get your money's worth of art
in every sense of the word," said the irrepressible Jo, as the
devoted phalanx prepared to take the field.

"To hear is to obey, but March is fairer far than May," said
little Parker, making a frantic effort to be both witty and tender,
and getting promptly quenched by Laurie, who said . . .

"Very well, my son, for a small boy!" and walked him off, with
a paternal pat on the head.

"Buy the vases," whispered Amy to Laurie, as a final heaping
of coals of fire on her enemy's head.

To May's great delight, Mr. Laurence not only bought the vases,
but pervaded the hall with one under each arm.  The other gentlemen
speculated with equal rashness in all sorts of frail trifles, and
wandered helplessly about afterward, burdened with wax flowers,
painted fans, filigree portfolios, and other useful and appropriate
purchases.

Aunt Carrol was there, heard the story, looked pleased, and
said something to Mrs. March in a corner, which made the latter
lady beam with satisfaction, and watch Amy with a face full of
mingled pride and anxiety, though she did not betray the cause
of her pleasure till several days later.

The fair was pronounced a success, and when May bade Amy
goodnight, she did not gush as usual, but gave her an affectionate
kiss, and a look which said 'forgive and forget'.  That satisfied
Amy, and when she got home she found the vases paraded on
the parlor chimney piece with a great bouquet in each.  "The
reward of merit for a magnanimous March," as Laurie announced
with a flourish.

"You've a deal more principle and generosity and nobleness
of character than I ever gave you credit for, Amy.  You've behaved
sweetly, and I respect you with all my heart," said Jo
warmly, as they brushed their hair together late that night.

"Yes, we all do, and love her for being so ready to forgive.  It must
have been dreadfully hard, after working so long and setting your
heart on selling your own pretty things.  I don't believe I could
have done it as kindly as you did," added Beth from her pillow.

"Why, girls, you needn't praise me so.  I only did as I'd
be done by.  You laugh at me when I say I want to be a lady, but
I mean a true gentlewoman in mind and manners, and I try to do
it as far as I know how.  I can't explain exactly, but I want to
be above the little meannesses and follies and faults that spoil
so many women.  I'm far from it now, but I do my best, and hope in
time to be what Mother is."

Amy spoke earnestly, and Jo said, with a cordial hug, "I
understand now what you mean, and I'll never laugh at you again.
You are getting on faster than you think, and I'll take lessons
of you in true politeness, for you've learned the secret, I believe.
Try away, deary, you'll get your reward some day, and
no one will be more delighted than I shall."

A week later Amy did get her reward, and poor Jo found it
hard to be delighted.  A letter came from Aunt Carrol, and Mrs.
March's face was illuminated to such a degree when she read it
that Jo and Beth, who were with her, demanded what the glad
tidings were.

"Aunt Carrol is going abroad next month, and wants . . ."

"Me to go with her!" burst in Jo, flying out of her chair
in an uncontrollable rapture.

"No, dear, not you.  It's Amy."

"Oh, Mother!  She's too young, it's my turn first.  I've
wanted it so long.  It would do me so much good, and be so altogether
splendid.  I must go!"

"I'm afraid it's impossible, Jo.  Aunt says Amy, decidedly,
and it is not for us to dictate when she offers such a favor."

"It's always so.  Amy has all the fun and I have all the work.
It isn't fair, oh, it isn't fair!" cried Jo passionately.

"I'm afraid it's partly your own fault, dear.  When Aunt spoke
to me the other day, she regretted your blunt manners and too
independent spirit, and here she writes, as if quoting something you
had said--'I planned at first to ask Jo, but as 'favors burden her',
and she 'hates French', I think I won't venture to invite her.  Amy
is more docile, will make a good companion for Flo, and receive
gratefully any help the trip may give her."

"Oh, my tongue, my abominable tongue!  Why can't I learn to
keep it quiet?" groaned Jo, remembering words which had been
her undoing.  When she had heard the explanation of the quoted
phrases, Mrs. March said sorrowfully . . .

"I wish you could have gone, but there is no hope of it this
time, so try to bear it cheerfully, and don't sadden Amy's pleasure
by reproaches or regrets."

"I'll try," said Jo, winking hard as she knelt down to pick
up the basket she had joyfully upset.  "I'll take a leaf out of
her book, and try not only to seem glad, but to be so, and not
grudge her one minute of happiness.  But it won't be easy, for
it is a dreadful disappointment," and poor Jo bedewed the little
fat pincushion she held with several very bitter tears.

"Jo, dear, I'm very selfish, but I couldn't spare you, and
I'm glad you are not going quite yet," whispered Beth, embracing
her, basket and all, with such a clinging touch and loving face
that Jo felt comforted in spite of the sharp regret that made her
want to box her own ears, and humbly beg Aunt Carrol to burden
her with this favor, and see how gratefully she would bear it.

By the time Amy came in, Jo was able to take her part in
the family jubilation, not quite as heartily as usual, perhaps,
but without repinings at Amy's good fortune.  The young lady
herself received the news as tidings of great joy, went about
in a solemn sort of rapture, and began to sort her colors and
pack her pencils that evening, leaving such trifles as clothes,
money, and passports to those less absorbed in visions of art
than herself.

"It isn't a mere pleasure trip to me, girls," she said impressively,
as she scraped her best palette.  "It will decide my career,
for if I have any genius, I shall find it out in Rome,
and will do something to prove it."

"Suppose you haven't?" said Jo, sewing away, with red eyes,
at the new collars which were to be handed over to Amy.

"Then I shall come home and teach drawing for my living,"
replied the aspirant for fame, with philosophic composure.
But she made a wry face at the prospect, and scratched away
at her palette as if bent on vigorous measures before she
gave up her hopes.

"No, you won't.  You hate hard work, and you'll marry some
rich man, and come home to sit in the lap of luxury all your
days," said Jo.

"Your predictions sometimes come to pass, but I don't believe
that one will.  I'm sure I wish it would, for if I can't be
an artist myself, I should like to be able to help those who are,"
said Amy, smiling, as if the part of Lady Bountiful would suit
her better than that of a poor drawing teacher.

"Hum!" said Jo, with a sigh.  "If you wish it you'll have it,
for your wishes are always granted--mine never."

"Would you like to go?" asked Amy, thoughtfully patting her
nose with her knife.

"Rather!"

"Well, in a year or two I'll send for you, and we'll dig in
the Forum for relics, and carry out all the plans we've made so
many times."

"Thank you.  I'll remind you of your promise when that joyful
day comes, if it ever does," returned Jo, accepting the vague but
magnificent offer as gratefully as she could.

There was not much time for preparation, and the house was
in a ferment till Amy was off.  Jo bore up very well till the
last flutter of blue ribbon vanished, when she retired to her
refuge, the garret, and cried till she couldn't cry any more.
Amy likewise bore up stoutly till the steamer sailed.  Then
just as the gangway was about to be withdrawn, it suddenly came
over her that a whole ocean was soon to roll between her and
those who loved her best, and she clung to Laurie, the last
lingerer, saying with a sob . . .

"Oh, take care of them for me, and if anything should
happen . . ."

"I will, dear, I will, and if anything happens, I'll come
and comfort you," whispered Laurie, little dreaming that he would
be called upon to keep his word.

So Amy sailed away to find the Old World, which is always
new and beautiful to young eyes, while her father and friend
watched her from the shore, fervently hoping that none but gentle
fortunes would befall the happy-hearted girl, who waved her hand
to them till they could see nothing but the summer sunshine dazzling
on the sea.



CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

OUR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

London

Dearest People,
Here I really sit at a front window of the Bath Hotel,
Piccadilly.  It's not a fashionable place, but Uncle stopped
here years ago, and won't go anywhere else.  However, we don't
mean to stay long, so it's no great matter.  Oh, I can't begin
to tell you how I enjoy it all!  I never can, so I'll only give
you bits out of my notebook, for I've done nothing but sketch
and scribble since I started.

I sent a line from Halifax, when I felt pretty miserable,
but after that I got on delightfully, seldom ill, on deck all
day, with plenty of pleasant people to amuse me.  Everyone was
very kind to me, especially the officers.  Don't laugh, Jo,
gentlemen really are very necessary aboard ship, to hold on to,
or to wait upon one, and as they have nothing to do, it's a mercy
to make them useful, otherwise they would smoke themselves to death,
I'm afraid.

Aunt and Flo were poorly all the way, and liked to be let
alone, so when I had done what I could for them, I went and
enjoyed myself.  Such walks on deck, such sunsets, such splendid
air and waves!  It was almost as exciting as riding a fast horse,
when we went rushing on so grandly.  I wish Beth could have come,
it would have done her so much good.  As for Jo, she would have
gone up and sat on the maintop jib, or whatever the high thing
is called, made friends with the engineers, and tooted on the
captain's speaking trumpet, she'd have been in such a state of
rapture.

It was all heavenly, but I was glad to see the Irish coast,
and found it very lovely, so green and sunny, with brown cabins
here and there, ruins on some of the hills, and gentlemen's
countryseats in the valleys, with deer feeding in the parks.
It was early in the morning, but I didn't regret getting up to
see it, for the bay was full of little boats, the shore so picturesque,
and a rosy sky overhead.  I never shall forget it.

At Queenstown one of my new acquaintances left us, Mr.
Lennox, and when I said something about the Lakes of Killarney,
he sighed, and sung, with a look at me . . .

    "Oh, have you e'er heard of Kate Kearney?
    She lives on the banks of Killarney;
    From the glance of her eye,
    Shun danger and fly,
    For fatal's the glance of Kate Kearney."

Wasn't that nonsensical?

We only stopped at Liverpool a few hours.  It's a dirty,
noisy place, and I was glad to leave it.  Uncle rushed out and
bought a pair of dogskin gloves, some ugly, thick shoes, and an
umbrella, and got shaved _'a la_ mutton chop, the first thing.
Then he flattered himself that he looked like a true Briton,
but the first time he had the mud cleaned off his shoes, the
little bootblack knew that an American stood in them, and said,
with a grin, "There yer har, sir.  I've given 'em the latest
Yankee shine."  It amused Uncle immensely.  Oh, I must tell you
what that absurd Lennox did!  He got his friend Ward, who came
on with us, to order a bouquet for me, and the first thing I
saw in my room was a lovely one, with "Robert Lennox's compliments,"
on the card.  Wasn't that fun, girls? I like traveling.

I never shall get to London if I don't hurry.  The trip was
like riding through a long picture gallery, full of lovely landscapes.
The farmhouses were my delight, with thatched roofs,
ivy up to the eaves, latticed windows, and stout women with rosy
children at the doors.  The very cattle looked more tranquil
than ours, as they stood knee-deep in clover, and the hens had
a contented cluck, as if they never got nervous like Yankee
biddies.  Such perfect color I never saw, the grass so green, sky
so blue, grain so yellow, woods so dark, I was in a rapture all
the way.  So was Flo, and we kept bouncing from one side to the
other, trying to see everything while we were whisking along at
the rate of sixty miles an hour.  Aunt was tired and went to sleep,
but Uncle read his guidebook, and wouldn't be astonished at anything.
This is the way we went on.  Amy, flying up--"Oh, that
must be Kenilworth, that gray place among the trees!"  Flo, darting
to my window--"How sweet!  We must go there sometime, won't we
Papa?" Uncle, calmly admiring his boots--"No, my dear, not unless
you want beer, that's a brewery."

A pause--then Flo cried out, "Bless me, there's a gallows and
a man going up."  "Where, where?" shrieks Amy, staring out at two
tall posts with a crossbeam and some dangling chains.  "A colliery,"
remarks Uncle, with a twinkle of the eye.  "Here's a lovely flock
of lambs all lying down," says Amy.  "See, Papa, aren't they
pretty?" added Flo sentimentally.  "Geese, young ladies," returns
Uncle, in a tone that keeps us quiet till Flo settles down to
enjoy the _Flirtations of Captain Cavendish_, and I have the scenery
all to myself.

Of course it rained when we got to London, and there was
nothing to be seen but fog and umbrellas.  We rested, unpacked,
and shopped a little between the showers.  Aunt Mary got me some
new things, for I came off in such a hurry I wasn't half ready.
A white hat and blue feather, a muslin dress to match, and the
loveliest mantle you ever saw.  Shopping in Regent Street is
perfectly splendid.  Things seem so cheap, nice ribbons only
sixpence a yard.  I laid in a stock, but shall get my gloves
in Paris.  Doesn't that sound sort of elegant and rich?

Flo and I, for the fun of it, ordered a hansom cab, while
Aunt and Uncle were out, and went for a drive, though we learned
afterward that it wasn't the thing for young ladies to ride in
them alone.  It was so droll!  For when we were shut in by the
wooden apron, the man drove so fast that Flo was frightened, and
told me to stop him, but he was up outside behind somewhere,
and I couldn't get at him.  He didn't hear me call, nor see me
flap my parasol in front, and there we were, quite helpless,
rattling away, and whirling around corners at a breakneck pace.
At last, in my despair, I saw a little door in the roof, and on
poking it open, a red eye appeared, and a beery voice said . . .

"Now, then, mum?"

I gave my order as soberly as I could, and slamming down
the door, with an "Aye, aye, mum," the man made his horse walk,
as if going to a funeral.  I poked again and said, "A little
faster," then off he went, helter-skelter as before, and we
resigned ourselves to our fate.

Today was fair, and we went to Hyde Park, close by, for we
are more aristocratic than we look.  The Duke of Devonshire lives
near.  I often see his footmen lounging at the back gate, and
the Duke of Wellington's house is not far off.  Such sights as I
saw, my dear!  It was as good as Punch, for there were fat dowagers
rolling about in their red and yellow coaches, with gorgeous
Jeameses in silk stockings and velvet coats, up behind, and powdered
coachmen in front.  Smart maids, with the rosiest children
I ever saw, handsome girls, looking half asleep, dandies in queer
English hats and lavender kids lounging about, and tall soldiers,
in short red jackets and muffin caps stuck on one side, looking
so funny I longed to sketch them.

Rotten Row means 'Route de Roi', or the king's way, but
now it's more like a riding school than anything else.  The
horses are splendid, and the men, especially the grooms, ride
well, but the women are stiff, and bounce, which isn't according
to our rules.  I longed to show them a tearing American
gallop, for they trotted solemnly up and down, in their scant
habits and high hats, looking like the women in a toy Noah's
Ark.  Everyone rides--old men, stout ladies, little children--
and the young folks do a deal of flirting here, I saw a pair
exchange rose buds, for it's the thing to wear one in the
button-hole, and I thought it rather a nice little idea.

In the P.M.  to Westminster Abbey, but don't expect me to describe
it, that's impossible, so I'll only say it was sublime! This evening
we are going to see Fechter, which will be an appropriate end to the
happiest day of my life.

It's very late, but I can't let my letter go in the morning
without telling you what happened last evening.  Who do
you think came in, as we were at tea?  Laurie's English friends,
Fred and Frank Vaughn!  I was so surprised, for I shouldn't have
known them but for the cards.  Both are tall fellows with whiskers,
Fred handsome in the English style, and Frank much better,
for he only limps slightly, and uses no crutches.  They had heard
from Laurie where we were to be, and came to ask us to their
house, but Uncle won't go, so we shall return the call, and see
them as we can.  They went to the theater with us, and we did
have such a good time, for Frank devoted himself to Flo, and
Fred and I talked over past, present, and future fun as if we
had known each other all our days.  Tell Beth Frank asked for her,
and was sorry to hear of her ill health.  Fred laughed when I
spoke of Jo, and sent his 'respectful compliments to the big hat'.
Neither of them had forgotten Camp Laurence, or the fun we had
there.  What ages ago it seems, doesn't it?

Aunt is tapping on the wall for the third time, so I must
stop.  I really feel like a dissipated London fine lady, writing
here so late, with my room full of pretty things, and my head
a jumble of parks, theaters, new gowns, and gallant creatures
who say "Ah!" and twirl their blond mustaches with the true
English lordliness.  I long to see you all, and in spite of my
nonsense am, as ever, your loving . . .

AMY


PARIS

Dear girls,

In my last I told you about our London visit, how kind the
Vaughns were, and what pleasant parties they made for us.  I enjoyed
the trips to Hampton Court and the Kensington Museum more than
anything else, for at Hampton I saw Raphael's cartoons, and
at the Museum, rooms full of pictures by Turner, Lawrence, Reynolds,
Hogarth, and the other great creatures.  The day in Richmond
Park was charming, for we had a regular English picnic, and
I had more splendid oaks and groups of deer than I could copy,
also heard a nightingale, and saw larks go up.  We 'did' London
to our heart's content, thanks to Fred and Frank, and were sorry
to go away, for though English people are slow to take you in,
when they once make up their minds to do it they cannot be outdone
in hospitality, I think.  The Vaughns hope to meet us in
Rome next winter, and I shall be dreadfully disappointed if they
don't, for Grace and I are great friends, and the boys very
nice fellows, especially Fred.

Well, we were hardly settled here, when he turned up again,
saying he had come for a holiday, and was going to Switzerland.
Aunt looked sober at first, but he was so cool about it she
couldn't say a word.  And now we get on nicely, and are very
glad he came, for he speaks French like a native, and I don't
know what we should do without him.  Uncle doesn't know ten
words, and insists on talking English very loud, as if it
would make people understand him.  Aunt's pronunciation is
old-fashioned, and Flo and I, though we flattered ourselves
that we knew a good deal, find we don't, and are very grateful
to have Fred do the '_parley vooing_', as Uncle calls it.

Such delightful times as we are having!  Sight-seeing from
morning till night, stopping for nice lunches in the gay _cafes_,
and meeting with all sorts of droll adventures.  Rainy days I
spend in the Louvre, revelling in pictures.  Jo would turn up
her naughty nose at some of the finest, because she has no
soul for art, but I have, and I'm cultivating eye and taste
as fast as I can.  She would like the relics of great people
better, for I've seen her Napoleon's cocked hat and gray
coat, his baby's cradle and his old toothbrush, also Marie
Antoinette's little shoe, the ring of Saint Denis, Charlemagne's
sword, and many other interesting things.  I'll talk for hours
about them when I come, but haven't time to write.

The Palais Royale is a heavenly place, so full of _bijouterie_
and lovely things that I'm nearly distracted because I can't
buy them.  Fred wanted to get me some, but of course I didn't
allow it.  Then the Bois and Champs Elysees are _tres magnifique_.
I've seen the imperial family several times, the emperor an ugly,
hard-looking man, the empress pale and pretty, but dressed in
bad taste, I thought--purple dress, green hat, and yellow gloves.
Little Nap is a handsome boy, who sits chatting to his tutor,
and kisses his hand to the people as he passes in his four-horse
barouche, with postilions in red satin jackets and a mounted
guard before and behind.

We often walk in the Tuileries Gardens, for they are
lovely, though the antique Luxembourg Gardens suit me better.
Pere la Chaise is very curious, for many of the tombs are
like small rooms, and looking in, one sees a table, with
images or pictures of the dead, and chairs for the mourners
to sit in when they come to lament.  That is so Frenchy.

Our rooms are on the Rue de Rivoli, and sitting on the
balcony, we look up and down the long, brilliant street.  It
is so pleasant that we spend our evenings talking there when
too tired with our day's work to go out.  Fred is very entertaining,
and is altogether the most agreeable young man I ever knew--
except Laurie, whose manners are more charming.  I wish Fred
was dark, for I don't fancy light men, however, the Vaughns
are very rich and come of an excellent family, so I won't
find fault with their yellow hair, as my own is yellower.

Next week we are off to Germany and Switzerland, and as
we shall travel fast, I shall only be able to give you hasty
letters.  I keep my diary, and try to 'remember correctly and
describe clearly all that I see and admire', as Father advised.
It is good practice for me, and with my sketchbook will give
you a better idea of my tour than these scribbles.

Adieu, I embrace you tenderly.
_"Votre Amie.""_


HEIDELBERG

My dear Mamma,

Having a quiet hour before we leave for Berne, I'll try to
tell you what has happened, for some of it is very important,
as you will see.

The sail up the Rhine was perfect, and I just sat and enjoyed
it with all my might.  Get Father's old guidebooks and
read about it.  I haven't words beautiful enough to describe it.
At Coblentz we had a lovely time, for some students from Bonn,
with whom Fred got acquainted on the boat, gave us a serenade.
It was a moonlight night, and about one o'clock Flo and I were
waked by the most delicious music under our windows.  We flew up,
and hid behind the curtains, but sly peeps showed us Fred and
the students singing away down below.  It was the most romantic
thing I ever saw--the river, the bridge of boats, the great fortress
opposite, moonlight everywhere, and music fit to melt a heart of stone.

When they were done we threw down some flowers, and saw
them scramble for them, kiss their hands to the invisible ladies,
and go laughing away, to smoke and drink beer, I suppose.  Next
morning Fred showed me one of the crumpled flowers in his vest
pocket, and looked very sentimental.  I laughed at him, and said
I didn't throw it, but Flo, which seemed to disgust him, for he
tossed it out of the window, and turned sensible again.  I'm
afraid I'm going to have trouble with that boy, it begins to
look like it.

The baths at Nassau were very gay, so was Baden-Baden,
where Fred lost some money, and I scolded him.  He needs someone
to look after him when Frank is not with him.  Kate said
once she hoped he'd marry soon, and I quite agree with her
that it would be well for him.  Frankfurt was delightful.  I
saw Goethe's house, Schiller's statue, and Dannecker's famous
'Ariadne.'  It was very lovely, but I should have enjoyed it
more if I had known the story better.  I didn't like to ask, as
everyone knew it or pretended they did.  I wish Jo would tell
me all about it.  I ought to have read more, for I find I don't
know anything, and it mortifies me.

Now comes the serious part, for it happened here, and Fred
has just gone.  He has been so kind and jolly that we all got
quite fond of him.  I never thought of anything but a traveling
friendship till the serenade night.  Since then I've begun to
feel that the moonlight walks, balcony talks, and daily adventures
were something more to him than fun.  I haven't flirted,
Mother, truly, but remembered what you said to me, and have done
my very best.  I can't help it if people like me.  I don't try to
make them, and it worries me if I don't care for them, though Jo
says I haven't got any heart.  Now I know Mother will shake her
head, and the girls say, "Oh, the mercenary little wretch!", but
I've made up my mind, and if Fred asks me, I shall accept him,
though I'm not madly in love.  I like him, and we get on comfortably
together.  He is handsome, young, clever enough, and very
rich--ever so much richer than the Laurences.  I don't think his
family would object, and I should be very happy, for they are all
kind, well-bred, generous people, and they like me.  Fred, as the
eldest twin, will have the estate, I suppose, and such a splendid
one it is!  A city house in a fashionable street, not so showy
as our big houses, but twice as comfortable and full of solid
luxury, such as English people believe in.  I like it, for it's
genuine.  I've seen the plate, the family jewels, the old servants,
and pictures of the country place, with its park, great house,
lovely grounds, and fine horses.  Oh, it would be all I should
ask!  And I'd rather have it than any title such as girls snap
up so readily, and find nothing behind.  I may be mercenary,
but I hate poverty, and don't mean to bear it a minute longer
than I can help.  One of us _must_ marry well.  Meg didn't, Jo
won't, Beth can't yet, so I shall, and make everything okay all
round.  I wouldn't marry a man I hated or despised.  You may be
sure of that, and though Fred is not my model hero, he does very
well, and in time I should get fond enough of him if he was very
fond of me, and let me do just as I liked.  So I've been turning
the matter over in my mind the last week, for it was impossible to
help seeing that Fred liked me.  He said nothing, but little things
showed it.  He never goes with Flo, always gets on my side of the
carriage, table, or promenade, looks sentimental when we are alone,
and frowns at anyone else who ventures to speak to me.  Yesterday
at dinner, when an Austrian officer stared at us and then said
something to his friend, a rakish-looking baron, about '_ein 
wonderschones Blondchen'_, Fred looked as fierce as a lion, and 
cut his meat so savagely it nearly flew off his plate.  He isn't
one of the cool, stiff Englishmen, but is rather peppery, for he
has Scotch blood in him, as one might guess from his bonnie blue eyes.

Well, last evening we went up to the castle about sunset, at
least all of us but Fred, who was to meet us there after going to
the Post Restante for letters.  We had a charming time poking
about the ruins, the vaults where the monster tun is, and the
beautiful gardens made by the elector long ago for his English
wife.  I liked the great terrace best, for the view was divine,
so while the rest went to see the rooms inside, I sat there trying
to sketch the gray stone lion's head on the wall, with scarlet
woodbine sprays hanging round it.  I felt as if I'd got into a
romance, sitting there, watching the Neckar rolling through the
valley, listening to the music of the Austrian band below, and
waiting for my lover, like a real storybook girl.  I had a feeling
that something was going to happen and I was ready for it.  I
didn't feel blushy or quakey, but quite cool and only a little
excited.

By-and-by I heard Fred's voice, and then he came hurrying
through the great arch to find me.  He looked so troubled that I
forgot all about myself, and asked what the matter was.  He said
he'd just got a letter begging him to come home, for Frank was
very ill.  So he was going at once on the night train and only
had time to say good-by.  I was very sorry for him, and disappointed
for myself, but only for a minute because he said, as he shook hands,
and said it in a way that I could not mistake,  "I shall soon come 
back, you won't forget me, Amy?"

I didn't promise, but I looked at him, and he seemed satisfied,
and there was no time for anything but messages and good-byes,
for he was off in an hour, and we all miss him very much.
I know he wanted to speak, but I think, from something he once
hinted, that he had promised his father not to do anything of
the sort yet a while, for he is a rash boy, and the old gentleman
dreads a foreign daughter-in-law.  We shall soon meet in
Rome, and then, if I don't change my mind, I'll say "Yes, thank
you," when he says "Will you, please?"

Of course this is all _very private_, but I wished you to
know what was going on.  Don't be anxious about me, remember I
am your 'prudent Amy', and be sure I will do nothing rashly.
Send me as much advice as you like.  I'll use it if I can.  I
wish I could see you for a good talk, Marmee.  Love and trust me.

Ever your AMY



CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

TENDER TROUBLES

"Jo, I'm anxious about Beth."

"Why, Mother, she has seemed unusually well since the
babies came."

"It's not her health that troubles me now, it's her spirits.
I'm sure there is something on her mind, and I want you to discover
what it is."

"What makes you think so, Mother?"

"She sits alone a good deal, and doesn't talk to her father
as much as she used.  I found her crying over the babies the
other day.  When she sings, the songs are always sad ones, and
now and then I see a look in her face that I don't understand.
This isn't like Beth, and it worries me."

"Have you asked her about it?"

"I have tried once or twice, but she either evaded my
questions or looked so distressed that I stopped.  I never
force my children's confidence, and I seldom have to wait
for long."

Mrs. March glanced at Jo as she spoke, but the face
opposite seemed quite unconscious of any secret disquietude
but Beth's, and after sewing thoughtfully for a minute, Jo
said, "I think she is growing up, and so begins to dream dreams,
and have hopes and fears and fidgets, without knowing why or
being able to explain them.  Why, Mother, Beth's eighteen, but
we don't realize it, and treat her like a child, forgetting
she's a woman."

"So she is.  Dear heart, how fast you do grow up," returned
her mother with a sigh and a smile.

"Can't be helped, Marmee, so you must resign yourself to
all sorts of worries, and let your birds hop out of the nest,
one by one.  I promise never to hop very far, if that is any
comfort to you."

"It's a great comfort, Jo.  I always feel strong when you
are at home, now Meg is gone.  Beth is too feeble and Amy too
young to depend upon, but when the tug comes, you are always
ready."

"Why, you know I don't mind hard jobs much, and there
must always be one scrub in a family.  Amy is splendid in fine
works and I'm not, but I feel in my element when all the carpets
are to be taken up, or half the family fall sick at once.
Amy is distinguishing herself abroad, but if anything is amiss
at home, I'm your man."

"I leave Beth to your hands, then, for she will open her
tender little heart to her Jo sooner than to anyone else.  Be
very kind, and don't let her think anyone watches or talks
about her.  If she only would get quite strong and cheerful
again, I shouldn't have a wish in the world."

"Happy woman!  I've got heaps."

"My dear, what are they?"

"I'll settle Bethy's troubles, and then I'll tell you mine.
They are not very wearing, so they'll keep." and Jo stitched away,
with a wise nod which set her mother's heart at rest about her for
the present at least.

While apparently absorbed in her own affairs, Jo watched
Beth, and after many conflicting conjectures, finally settled
upon one which seemed to explain the change in her.  A slight
incident gave Jo the clue to the mystery, she thought, and
lively fancy, loving heart did the rest.  She was affecting
to write busily one Saturday afternoon, when she and Beth were
alone together.  Yet as she scribbled, she kept her eye on her
sister, who seemed unusually quiet.  Sitting at the window, Beth's
work often dropped into her lap, and she leaned her head upon her
hand, in a dejected attitude, while her eyes rested on the dull,
autumnal landscape.  Suddenly some one passed below, whistling
like an operatic blackbird, and a voice called out, "All serene!
Coming in tonight."

Beth started, leaned forward, smiled and nodded, watched the
passer-by till his quick tramp died away, then said softly as if
to herself, "How strong and well and happy that dear boy looks."

"Hum!" said Jo, still intent upon her sister's face, for the
bright color faded as quickly as it came, the smile vanished, and
presently a tear lay shining on the window ledge.  Beth whisked
it off, and in her half-averted face read a tender sorrow that
made her own eyes fill.  Fearing to betray herself, she slipped
away, murmuring something about needing more paper.

"Mercy on me, Beth loves Laurie!" she said, sitting down in
her own room, pale with the shock of the discovery which she
believed she had just made.  "I never dreamed of such a thing.
What will Mother say?  I wonder if her . . ."  there Jo stopped
and turned scarlet with a sudden thought.  "If he shouldn't love
back again, how dreadful it would be.  He must.  I'll make him!"
and she shook her head threateningly at the picture of the
mischievous-looking boy laughing at her from the wall.  "Oh dear,
we are growing up with a vengeance.  Here's Meg married and a
mamma, Amy flourishing away at Paris, and Beth in love.  I'm the
only one that has sense enough to keep out of mischief." Jo
thought intently for a minute with her eyes fixed on the picture,
then she smoothed out her wrinkled forehead and said, with a
decided nod at the face opposite, "No thank you, sir, you're very
charming, but you've no more stability than a weathercock.  So you
needn't write touching notes and smile in that insinuating way,
for it won't do a bit of good, and I won't have it."

Then she sighed, and fell into a reverie from which she
did not wake till the early twilight sent her down to take new
observations, which only confirmed her suspicion.  Though
Laurie flirted with Amy and joked with Jo, his manner to Beth
had always been peculiarly kind and gentle, but so was everybody's.
Therefore, no one thought of imagining that he cared more
for her than for the others.  Indeed, a general impression
had prevailed in the family of late that 'our boy' was getting
fonder than ever of Jo, who, however, wouldn't hear a word upon
the subject and scolded violently if anyone dared to suggest it.
If they had known the various tender passages which had been
nipped in the bud, they would have had the immense satisfaction
of saying, "I told you so."  But Jo hated 'philandering', and
wouldn't allow it, always having a joke or a smile ready at the
least sign of impending danger.

When Laurie first went to college, he fell in love about
once a month, but these small flames were as brief as ardent,
did no damage, and much amused Jo, who took great interest in
the alternations of hope, despair, and resignation, which were
confided to her in their weekly conferences.  But there came a
time when Laurie ceased to worship at many shrines, hinted
darkly at one all-absorbing passion, and indulged occasionally
in Byronic fits of gloom.  Then he avoided the tender subject
altogether, wrote philosophical notes to Jo, turned studious,
and gave out that he was going to 'dig', intending to graduate
in a blaze of glory.  This suited the young lady better than
twilight confidences, tender pressures of the hand, and
eloquent glances of the eye, for with Jo, brain developed
earlier than heart, and she preferred imaginary heroes to
real ones, because when tired of them, the former could be
shut up in the tin kitchen till called for, and the latter
were less manageable.

Things were in this state when the grand discovery was
made, and Jo watched Laurie that night as she had never done
before.  If she had not got the new idea into her head, she
would have seen nothing unusual in the fact that Beth was
very quiet, and Laurie very kind to her.  But having given the
rein to her lively fancy, it galloped away with her at a great
pace, and common sense, being rather weakened by a long course
of romance writing, did not come to the rescue.  As usual Beth
lay on the sofa and Laurie sat in a low chair close by, amusing
her with all sorts of gossip, for she depended on her weekly
'spin', and he never disappointed her.  But that evening Jo
fancied that Beth's eyes rested on the lively, dark face
beside her with peculiar pleasure, and that she listened with
intense interest to an account of some exciting cricket match,
though the phrases, 'caught off a tice', 'stumped off his ground',
and 'the leg hit for three', were as intelligible to her as
Sanskrit.  She also fancied, having set her heart upon seeing it,
that she saw a certain increase of gentleness in Laurie's manner,
that he dropped his voice now and then, laughed less than usual,
was a little absent-minded, and settled the afghan over Beth's
feet with an assiduity that was really almost tender.

"Who knows?  Stranger things have happened," thought Jo,
as she fussed about the room.  "She will make quite an angel
of him, and he will make life delightfully easy and pleasant
for the dear, if they only love each other.  I don't see how he
can help it, and I do believe he would if the rest of us were out of
the way."

As everyone was out of the way but herself, Jo began to
feel that she ought to dispose of herself with all speed.  But
where should she go? And burning to lay herself upon the shrine
of sisterly devotion, she sat down to settle that point.

Now, the old sofa was a regular patriarch of a sofa--long,
broad, well-cushioned, and low, a trifle shabby, as well it might
be, for the girls had slept and sprawled on it as babies,
fished over the back, rode on the arms, and had menageries
under it as children, and rested tired heads, dreamed dreams,
and listened to tender talk on it as young women.  They all loved
it, for it was a family refuge, and one corner had always been
Jo's favorite lounging place.  Among the many pillows that adorned
the venerable couch was one, hard, round, covered with prickly
horsehair, and furnished with a knobby button at each end.  This
repulsive pillow was her especial property, being used as a weapon
of defense, a barricade, or a stern preventive of too much slumber.

Laurie knew this pillow well, and had cause to regard it with
deep aversion, having been unmercifully pummeled with it in former
days when romping was allowed, and now frequently debarred by it
from the seat he most coveted next to Jo in the sofa corner.  If
'the sausage' as they called it, stood on end, it was a sign that
he might approach and repose, but if it lay flat across the sofa,
woe to man, woman, or child who dared disturb it!  That evening
Jo forgot to barricade her corner, and had not been in her seat
five minutes, before a massive form appeared beside her, and with
both arms spread over the sofa back, both long legs stretched out
before him, Laurie exclaimed, with a sigh of satisfaction . . .

"Now, this is filling at the price."

"No slang," snapped Jo, slamming down the pillow.  But it was
too late, there was no room for it, and coasting onto the floor,
it disappeared in a most mysterious manner.

"Come, Jo, don't be thorny.  After studying himself to a
skeleton all the week, a fellow deserves petting and ought to get
it."

"Beth will pet you.  I'm busy."

"No, she's not to be bothered with me, but you like that sort
of thing, unless you've suddenly lost your taste for it.  Have you?
Do you hate your boy, and want to fire pillows at him?"

Anything more wheedlesome than that touching appeal was seldom
heard, but Jo quenched 'her boy' by turning on him with a stern
query, "How many bouquets have you sent Miss Randal this week?"

"Not one, upon my word.  She's engaged.  Now then."

"I'm glad of it, that's one of your foolish extravagances,
sending flowers and things to girls for whom you don't care two
pins," continued Jo reprovingly.

"Sensible girls for whom I do care whole papers of pins won't let me
send them 'flowers and things', so what can I do? My feelings need a
'vent'."

"Mother doesn't approve of flirting even in fun, and you do
flirt desperately, Teddy."

"I'd give anything if I could answer, 'So do you'.  As I can't,
I'll merely say that I don't see any harm in that pleasant little
game, if all parties understand that it's only play."

"Well, it does look pleasant, but I can't learn how it's done.
I've tried, because one feels awkward in company not to do as
everybody else is doing, but I don't seem to get on", said Jo,
forgetting to play mentor.

"Take lessons of Amy, she has a regular talent for it."

"Yes, she does it very prettily, and never seems to go too
far.  I suppose it's natural to some people to please without
trying, and others to always say and do the wrong thing in the
wrong place."

"I'm glad you can't flirt.  It's really refreshing to see a
sensible, straightforward girl, who can be jolly and kind without
making a fool of herself.  Between ourselves, Jo, some of the
girls I know really do go on at such a rate I'm ashamed of them.
They don't mean any harm, I'm sure, but if they knew how we
fellows talked about them afterward, they'd mend their ways, I
fancy."

"They do the same, and as their tongues are the sharpest,
you fellows get the worst of it, for you are as silly as they,
every bit.  If you behaved properly, they would, but knowing
you like their nonsense, they keep it up, and then you blame
them."

"Much you know about it, ma'am," said Laurie in a superior tone.
"We don't like romps and flirts, though we may act as if
we did sometimes.  The pretty, modest girls are never
talked about, except respectfully, among gentleman.
Bless your innocent soul!  If you could be in my place
for a month you'd see things that would astonish you a trifle.
Upon my word, when I see one of those harum-scarum girls,
I always want to say with our friend Cock Robin . . .

    "Out upon you, fie upon you,
     Bold-faced jig!"

It was impossible to help laughing at the funny conflict
between Laurie's chivalrous reluctance to speak ill of womankind,
and his very natural dislike of the unfeminine folly of
which fashionable society showed him many samples.  Jo knew
that 'young Laurence' was regarded as a most eligible parti
by worldly mamas, was much smiled upon by their daughters,
and flattered enough by ladies of all ages to make a coxcomb
of him, so she watched him rather jealously, fearing
he would be spoiled, and rejoiced more than she confessed
to find that he still believed in modest girls.  Returning
suddenly to her admonitory tone, she said, dropping her
voice, "If you must have a 'vent', Teddy, go and devote
yourself to one of the 'pretty, modest girls' whom you do
respect, and not waste your time with the silly ones."

"You really advise it?" and Laurie looked at her with
an odd mixture of anxiety and merriment in his face.

"Yes, I do, but you'd better wait till you are through
college, on the whole, and be fitting yourself for the place
meantime.  You're not half good enough for--well, whoever
the modest girl may be." and Jo looked a little queer likewise,
for a name had almost escaped her.

"That I'm not!" acquiesced Laurie, with an expression of
humility quite new to him, as he dropped his eyes and absently
wound Jo's apron tassel round his finger.

"Mercy on us, this will never do," thought Jo, adding
aloud, "Go and sing to me.  I'm dying for some music, and
always like yours."

"I'd rather stay here, thank you."

"Well, you can't, there isn't room.  Go and make yourself
useful, since you are too big to be ornamental.  I thought you
hated to be tied to a woman's apron string?" retorted Jo,
quoting certain rebellious words of his own.

"Ah, that depends on who wears the apron!" and Laurie
gave an audacious tweak at the tassel.

"Are you going?" demanded Jo, diving for the pillow.

He fled at once, and the minute it was well, "Up with the
bonnets of bonnie Dundee," she slipped away to return no more
till the young gentleman departed in high dudgeon.

Jo lay long awake that night, and was just dropping off
when the sound of a stifled sob made her fly to Beth's bedside,
with the anxious inquiry, "What is it, dear?"

"I thought you were asleep," sobbed Beth.

"Is it the old pain, my precious?"

"No, it's a new one, but I can bear it," and Beth tried
to check her tears.

"Tell me all about it, and let me cure it as I often did
the other."

"You can't, there is no cure."  There Beth's voice gave
way, and clinging to her sister, she cried so despairingly
that Jo was frightened.

"Where is it?  Shall I call Mother?"

"No, no, don't call her, don't tell her.  I shall be
better soon.  Lie down here and 'poor' my head.  I'll be
quiet and go to sleep, indeed I will."

Jo obeyed, but as her hand went softly to and fro across
Beth's hot forehead and wet eyelids, her heart was very full
and she longed to speak.  But young as she was, Jo had learned
that hearts, like flowers, cannot be rudely handled, but must
open naturally, so though she believed she knew the cause of
Beth's new pain, she only said, in her tenderest tone, "Does
anything trouble you, deary?"

"Yes, Jo," after a long pause.

"Wouldn't it comfort you to tell me what it is?"

"Not now, not yet."

"Then I won't ask, but remember, Bethy, that Mother and
Jo are always glad to hear and help you, if they can."

"I know it.  I'll tell you by-and-by."

"Is the pain better now?"

"Oh, yes, much better, you are so comfortable, Jo."

"Go to sleep, dear.  I'll stay with you."

So cheek to cheek they fell asleep, and on the morrow
Beth seemed quite herself again, for at eighteen neither heads
nor hearts ache long, and a loving word can medicine most ills.

But Jo had made up her mind, and after pondering over a
project for some days, she confided it to her mother.

"You asked me the other day what my wishes were.  I'll
tell you one of them, Marmee," she began, as they sat along
together.  "I want to go away somewhere this winter for a
change."

"Why, Jo?" and her mother looked up quickly, as if the
words suggested a double meaning.

With her eyes on her work Jo answered soberly, "I want
something new.  I feel restless and anxious to be seeing,
doing, and learning more than I am.  I brood too much over
my own small affairs, and need stirring up, so as I can be
spared this winter, I'd like to hop a little way and try my
wings."

"Where will you hop?"

"To New York.  I had a bright idea yesterday, and this is
it.  You know Mrs. Kirke wrote to you for some respectable
young person to teach her children and sew.  It's rather hard
to find just the thing, but I think I should suit if I tried."

"My dear, go out to service in that great boarding house!"
and Mrs. March looked surprised, but not displeased.

"It's not exactly going out to service, for Mrs. Kirke is
your friend--the kindest soul that ever lived--and would make
things pleasant for me, I know.  Her family is separate from
the rest, and no one knows me there.  Don't care if they do.
It's honest work, and I'm not ashamed of it."

"Nor I.  But your writing?"

"All the better for the change.  I shall see and hear new
things, get new ideas, and even if I haven't much time there,
I shall bring home quantities of material for my rubbish."

"I have no doubt of it, but are these your only reasons for
this sudden fancy?"

"No, Mother."

"May I know the others?"

Jo looked up and Jo looked down, then said slowly, with
sudden color in her cheeks.  "It may be vain and wrong to
say it, but--I'm afraid--Laurie is getting too fond of me."

"Then you don't care for him in the way it is evident he
begins to care for you?" and Mrs. March looked anxious as she
put the question.

"Mercy, no!  I love the dear boy, as I always have, and
am immensely proud of him, but as for anything more, it's out
of the question."

"I'm glad of that, Jo."

"Why, please?"

"Because, dear, I don't think you suited to one another.  As
friends you are very happy, and your frequent quarrels soon blow
over, but I fear you would both rebel if you were mated for life.
You are too much alike and too fond of freedom, not to mention
hot tempers and strong wills, to get on happily together, in a
relation which needs infinite patience and forbearance, as well
as love."

"That's just the feeling I had, though I couldn't express it.
I'm glad you think he is only beginning to care for me.  It would
trouble me sadly to make him unhappy, for I couldn't fall in love
with the dear old fellow merely out of gratitude, could I?"

"You are sure of his feeling for you?"

The color deepened in Jo's cheeks as she answered, with
the look of mingled pleasure, pride, and pain which young
girls wear when speaking of first lovers, "I'm afraid it is
so, Mother.  He hasn't said anything, but he looks a great deal.
I think I had better go away before it comes to anything."

"I agree with you, and if it can be managed you shall go."

Jo looked relieved, and after a pause, said, smiling, "How
Mrs. Moffat would wonder at your want of management, if she
knew, and how she will rejoice that Annie may still hope."

"Ah, Jo, mothers may differ in their management, but the
hope is the same in all--the desire to see their children happy.
Meg is so, and I am content with her success.  You I leave to
enjoy your liberty till you tire of it, for only then will you
find that there is something sweeter.  Amy is my chief care
now, but her good sense will help her.  For Beth, I indulge
no hopes except that she may be well.  By the way, she seems
brighter this last day or two.  Have you spoken to her?'

"Yes, she owned she had a trouble, and promised to tell
me by-and-by.  I said no more, for I think I know it," and
Jo told her little story.

Mrs. March shook her head, and did not take so romantic
a view of the case, but looked grave, and repeated her opinion
that for Laurie's sake Jo should go away for a time.

"Let us say nothing about it to him till the plan is settled,
then I'll run away before he can collect his wits and be tragic.
Beth must think I'm going to please myself, as I am, for I can't
talk about Laurie to her.  But she can pet and comfort him after
I'm gone, and so cure him of this romantic notion.  He's been
through so many little trials of the sort, he's used to it, and
will soon get over his lovelornity."

Jo spoke hopefully, but could not rid herself of the foreboding
fear that this 'little trial' would be harder than the others,
and that Laurie would not get over his 'lovelornity' as easily
as heretofore.

The plan was talked over in a family council and agreed
upon, for Mrs. Kirke gladly accepted Jo, and promised to
make a pleasant home for her.  The teaching would render
her independent, and such leisure as she got might be made
profitable by writing, while the new scenes and society would
be both useful and agreeable.  Jo liked the prospect and was
eager to be gone, for the home nest was growing too narrow
for her restless nature and adventurous spirit.  When all was
settled, with fear and trembling she told Laurie, but to her
surprise he took it very quietly.  He had been graver than
usual of late, but very pleasant, and when jokingly accused
of turning over a new leaf, he answered soberly, "So I am,
and I mean this one shall stay turned."

Jo was very much relieved that one of his virtuous fits
should come on just then, and made her preparations with a
lightened heart, for Beth seemed more cheerful, and hoped
she was doing the best for all.

"One thing I leave in your especial care," she said, the
night before she left.

"You mean your papers?" asked Beth.

"No, my boy.  Be very good to him, won't you?"

"Of course I will, but I can't fill your place, and he'll
miss you sadly."

"It won't hurt him, so remember, I leave him in your
charge, to plague, pet, and keep in order."

"I'll do my best, for your sake," promised Beth, wondering
why Jo looked at her so queerly.

When Laurie said good-by, he whispered significantly, "It
won't do a bit of good, Jo.  My eye is on you, so mind what you
do, or I'll come and bring you home."



CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

JO'S JOURNAL

New York, November

Dear Marmee and Beth,

I'm going to write you a regular volume, for I've got heaps
to tell, though I'm not a fine young lady traveling on the continent.
When I lost sight of Father's dear old face, I felt a
trifle blue, and might have shed a briny drop or two, if an
Irish lady with four small children, all crying more or less,
hadn't diverted my mind, for I amused myself by dropping gingerbread
nuts over the seat every time they opened their mouths to roar.

Soon the sun came out, and taking it as a good omen, I
cleared up likewise and enjoyed my journey with all my heart.

Mrs. Kirke welcomed me so kindly I felt at home at once,
even in that big house full of strangers.  She gave me a funny
little sky parlor--all she had, but there is a stove in it, and a
nice table in a sunny window, so I can sit here and write whenever
I like.  A fine view and a church tower opposite atone for
the many stairs, and I took a fancy to my den on the spot.
The nursery, where I am to teach and sew, is a pleasant room next
Mrs. Kirke's private parlor, and the two little girls are pretty
children, rather spoiled, I fancy, but they took to me after
telling them The Seven Bad Pigs, and I've no doubt I shall make
a model governess.

I am to have my meals with the children, if I prefer it to
the great table, and for the present I do, for I am bashful,
though no one will believe it.

"Now, my dear, make yourself at home," said Mrs. K.  in her
motherly way, "I'm on the drive from morning to night, as you
may suppose with such a family, but a great anxiety will be off
my mind if I know the children are safe with you.  My rooms are
always open to you, and your own shall be as comfortable as I
can make it.  There are some pleasant people in the house if you
feel sociable, and your evenings are always free.  Come to me
if anything goes wrong, and be as happy as you can.  There's the
tea bell, I must run and change my cap."  And off she bustled,
leaving me to settle myself in my new nest.

As I went downstairs soon after, I saw something I liked.
The flights are very long in this tall house, and as I stood
waiting at the head of the third one for a little servant girl
to lumber up, I saw a gentleman come along behind her, take the
heavy hod of coal out of her hand, carry it all the way up, put
it down at a door near by, and walk away, saying, with a kind
nod and a foreign accent, "It goes better so.  The little back
is too young to haf such heaviness."

Wasn't it good of him?  I like such things, for as Father
says, trifles show character.  When I mentioned it to Mrs. K.,
that evening, she laughed, and said, "That must have been
Professor Bhaer, he's always doing things of that sort."

Mrs. K.  told me he was from Berlin, very learned and good,
but poor as a church mouse, and gives lessons to support himself
and two little orphan nephews whom he is educating here, according
to the wishes of his sister, who married an American.  Not
a very romantic story, but it interested me, and I was glad to
hear that Mrs. K.  lends him her parlor for some of his scholars.
There is a glass door between it and the nursery, and I mean to
peep at him, and then I'll tell you how he looks.  He's almost
forty, so it's no harm, Marmee.

After tea and a go-to-bed romp with the little girls, I
attacked the big workbasket, and had a quiet evening chatting
with my new friend.  I shall keep a journal-letter, and send it
once a week, so goodnight, and more tomorrow.

Tuesday Eve

Had a lively time in my seminary this morning, for the
children acted like Sancho, and at one time I really thought I
should shake them all round.  Some good angel inspired me to
try gymnastics, and I kept it up till they were glad to sit down
and keep still.  After luncheon, the girl took them out for a
walk, and I went to my needlework like little Mabel 'with a
willing mind'.  I was thanking my stars that I'd learned to
make nice buttonholes, when the parlor door opened and shut,
and someone began to hum, Kennst Du Das Land, like a big bumblebee.
It was dreadfully improper, I know, but I couldn't
resist the temptation, and lifting one end of the curtain
before the glass door, I peeped in.  Professor Bhaer was there,
and while he arranged his books, I took a good look at him.  A
regular German--rather stout, with brown hair tumbled all over
his head, a bushy beard, good nose, the kindest eyes I ever
saw, and a splendid big voice that does one's ears good, after
our sharp or slipshod American gabble.  His clothes were rusty,
his hands were large, and he hadn't a really handsome feature
in his face, except his beautiful teeth, yet I liked him, for
he had a fine head, his linen was very nice, and he looked
like a gentleman, though two buttons were off his coat and
there was a patch on one shoe.  He looked sober in spite of
his humming, till he went to the window to turn the hyacinth
bulbs toward the sun, and stroke the cat, who received him
like an old friend.  Then he smiled, and when a tap came at
the door, called out in a loud, brisk tone, "Herein!"

I was just going to run, when I caught sight of a morsel of
a child carrying a big book, and stopped, to see what was going
on.

"Me wants me Bhaer," said the mite, slamming down her book
and running to meet him.

"Thou shalt haf thy Bhaer.  Come, then, and take a goot
hug from him, my Tina," said the Professor, catching her up
with a laugh, and holding her so high over his head that she
had to stoop her little face to kiss him.

"Now me mus tuddy my lessin," went on the funny little
thing.  So he put her up at the table, opened the great dictionary
she had brought, and gave her a paper and pencil, and
she scribbled away, turning a leaf now and then, and passing
her little fat finger down the page, as if finding a word,
so soberly that I nearly betrayed myself by a laugh, while
Mr. Bhaer stood stroking her pretty hair with a fatherly look
that made me think she must be his own, though she looked more
French than German.

Another knock and the appearance of two young ladies sent
me back to my work, and there I virtuously remained through all
the noise and gabbling that went on next door.  One of the girls
kept laughing affectedly, and saying, "Now Professor," in a
coquettish tone, and the other pronounced her German with an
accent that must have made it hard for him to keep sober.

Both seemed to try his patience sorely, for more than once
I heard him say emphatically, "No, no, it is not so, you haf
not attend to what I say," and once there was a loud rap, as
if he struck the table with his book, followed by the despairing
exclamation, "Prut!  It all goes bad this day."

Poor man, I pitied him, and when the girls were gone, took
just one more peep to see if he survived it.  He seemed to have
thrown himself back in his chair, tired out, and sat there with
his eyes shut till the clock struck two, when he jumped up, put
his books in his pocket, as if ready for another lesson, and
taking little Tina who had fallen asleep on the sofa in his
arms, he carried her quietly away.  I fancy he has a hard life
of it.  Mrs. Kirke asked me if I wouldn't go down to the five
o'clock dinner, and feeling a little bit homesick, I thought
I would, just to see what sort of people are under the same
roof with me.  So I made myself respectable and tried to slip
in behind Mrs. Kirke, but as she is short and I'm tall, my
efforts at concealment were rather a failure.  She gave me a
seat by her, and after my face cooled off, I plucked up courage
and looked about me.  The long table was full, and every 
one intent on getting their dinner, the gentlemen especially,
who seemed to be eating on time, for they bolted in every
sense of the word, vanishing as soon as they were done.  There
was the usual assortment of young men absorbed in themselves,
young couples absorbed in each other, married ladies in their
babies, and old gentlemen in politics.  I don't think I shall
care to have much to do with any of them, except one sweetfaced
maiden lady, who looks as if she had something in her.

Cast away at the very bottom of the table was the Professor,
shouting answers to the questions of a very inquisitive,
deaf old gentleman on one side, and talking philosophy with
a Frenchman on the other.  If Amy had been here, she'd have
turned her back on him forever because, sad to relate, he had
a great appetite, and shoveled in his dinner in a manner which
would have horrified 'her ladyship'.  I didn't mind, for I like
'to see folks eat with a relish', as Hannah says, and the poor
man must have needed a deal of food after teaching idiots all day.

As I went upstairs after dinner, two of the young men
were settling their hats before the hall mirror, and I heard
one say low to the other, "Who's the new party?"

"Governess, or something of that sort."

"What the deuce is she at our table for?"

"Friend of the old lady's."

"Handsome head, but no style."

"Not a bit of it.  Give us a light and come on."

I felt angry at first, and then I didn't care, for a governess
is as good as a clerk, and I've got sense, if I haven't
style, which is more than some people have, judging from the
remarks of the elegant beings who clattered away, smoking like
bad chimneys.  I hate ordinary people!


Thursday

Yesterday was a quiet day spent in teaching, sewing, and
writing in my little room, which is very cozy, with a light and
fire.  I picked up a few bits of news and was introduced to the
Professor.  It seems that Tina is the child of the Frenchwoman
who does the fine ironing in the laundry here.  The little thing
has lost her heart to Mr. Bhaer, and follows him about the house
like a dog whenever he is at home, which delights him, as he is
very fond of children, though a 'bacheldore'.  Kitty and Minnie
Kirke likewise regard him with affection, and tell all sorts of
stories about the plays he invents, the presents he brings, and
the splendid tales he tells.  The younger men quiz him, it seems,
call him Old Fritz, Lager Beer, Ursa Major, and make all manner
of jokes on his name.  But he enjoys it like a boy, Mrs. Kirke
says, and takes it so good-naturedly that they all like him in
spite of his foreign ways.

The maiden lady is a Miss Norton, rich, cultivated, and
kind.  She spoke to me at dinner today (for I went to table
again, it's such fun to watch people), and asked me to come
and see her at her room.  She has fine books and pictures,
knows interesting persons, and seems friendly, so I shall make
myself agreeable, for I do want to get into good society, only
it isn't the same sort that Amy likes.

I was in our parlor last evening when Mr. Bhaer came in
with some newspapers for Mrs. Kirke.  She wasn't there, but
Minnie, who is a little old woman, introduced me very prettily.
"This is Mamma's friend, Miss March."

"Yes, and she's jolly and we like her lots," added Kitty,
who is an 'enfant terrible'.

We both bowed, and then we laughed, for the prim introduction
and the blunt addition were rather a comical contrast.

"Ah, yes, I hear these naughty ones go to vex you, Mees
Marsch.  If so again, call at me and I come," he said, with a
threatening frown that delighted the little wretches.

I promised I would, and he departed, but it seems as if I
was doomed to see a good deal of him, for today as I passed
his door on my way out, by accident I knocked against it with
my umbrella.  It flew open, and there he stood in his dressing
gown, with a big blue sock on one hand and a darning needle
in the other.  He didn't seem at all ashamed of it, for when
I explained and hurried on, he waved his hand, sock and all,
saying in his loud, cheerful way . . .

"You haf a fine day to make your walk.  Bon voyage, Mademoiselle."

I laughed all the way downstairs, but it was a little pathetic,
also to think of the poor man having to mend his own clothes.
The German gentlemen embroider, I know, but darning hose is
another thing and not so pretty.


Saturday

Nothing has happened to write about, except a call on Miss
Norton, who has a room full of pretty things, and who was very
charming, for she showed me all her treasures, and asked me if
I would sometimes go with her to lectures and concerts, as her
escort, if I enjoyed them.  She put it as a favor, but I'm sure
Mrs. Kirke has told her about us, and she does it out of kindness
to me.  I'm as proud as Lucifer, but such favors from such
people don't burden me, and I accepted gratefully.

When I got back to the nursery there was such an uproar
in the parlor that I looked in, and there was Mr. Bhaer down
on his hands and knees, with Tina on his back, Kitty leading
him with a jump rope, and Minnie feeding two small boys with
seedcakes, as they roared and ramped in cages built of chairs.

"We are playing nargerie," explained Kitty.

"Dis is mine effalunt!" added Tina, holding on by the
Professor's hair.

"Mamma always allows us to do what we like Saturday afternoon,
when Franz and Emil come, doesn't she, Mr. Bhaer?"
said Minnie.

The 'effalunt' sat up, looking as much in earnest as any
of them, and said soberly to me, "I gif you my wort it is so,
if we make too large a noise you shall say Hush! to us, and we
go more softly."

I promised to do so, but left the door open and enjoyed the
fun as much as they did, for a more glorious frolic I never
witnessed.  They played tag and soldiers, danced and sang,
and when it began to grow dark they all piled onto the sofa about
the Professor, while he told charming fairy stories of the storks
on the chimney tops, and the little 'koblods', who ride the
snowflakes as they fall.  I wish Americans were as simple and
natural as Germans, don't you?

I'm so fond of writing, I should go spinning on forever if
motives of economy didn't stop me, for though I've used thin
paper and written fine, I tremble to think of the stamps this
long letter will need.  Pray forward Amy's as soon as you can
spare them.  My small news will sound very flat after her
splendors, but you will like them, I know.  Is Teddy studying
so hard that he can't find time to write to his friends?  Take
good care of him for me, Beth, and tell me all about the babies,
and give heaps of love to everyone.  From your faithful Jo.

P.S.  On reading over my letter, it strikes me as rather
Bhaery, but I am always interested in odd people, and I really
had nothing else to write about.  Bless you!

DECEMBER

My Precious Betsey,

As this is to be a scribble-scrabble letter, I direct it to
you, for it may amuse you, and give you some idea of my goings
on, for though quiet, they are rather amusing, for which, oh,
be joyful!  After what Amy would call Herculaneum efforts, in
the way of mental and moral agriculture, my young ideas begin
to shoot and my little twigs to bend as I could wish.  They are
not so interesting to me as Tina and the boys, but I do my duty
by them, and they are fond of me.  Franz and Emil are jolly
little lads, quite after my own heart, for the mixture of
German and American spirit in them produces a constant state of
effervescence.  Saturday afternoons are riotous times, whether
spent in the house or out, for on pleasant days they all go to
walk, like a seminary, with the Professor and myself to keep
order, and then such fun!

We are very good friends now, and I've begun to take
lessons.  I really couldn't help it, and it all came about in
such a droll way that I must tell you.  To begin at the beginning,
Mrs. Kirke called to me one day as I passed Mr. Bhaer's room
where she was rummaging.

"Did you ever see such a den, my dear?  Just come and
help me put these books to rights, for I've turned everything
upside down, trying to discover what he has done with the six
new handkerchiefs I gave him not long ago."

I went in, and while we worked I looked about me, for it
was 'a den' to be sure.  Books and papers everywhere, a broken
meerschaum, and an old flute over the mantlepiece as if done
with, a ragged bird without any tail chirped on one window
seat, and a box of white mice adorned the other.  Half-finished
boats and bits of string lay among the manuscripts.  Dirty
little boots stood drying before the fire, and traces of the
dearly beloved boys, for whom he makes a slave of himself,
were to be seen all over the room.  After a grand rummage
three of the missing articles were found, one over the bird
cage, one covered with ink, and a third burned brown, having
been used as a holder.

"Such a man!" laughed good-natured Mrs. K., as she put the
relics in the rag bay.  "I suppose the others are torn up to
rig ships, bandage cut fingers, or make kite tails.  It's dreadful,
but I can't scold him.  He's so absent-minded and goodnatured,
he lets those boys ride over him roughshod.  I agreed to do
his washing and mending, but he forgets to give out his things
and I forget to look them over, so he comes to a sad pass sometimes."

"Let me mend them," said I.  "I don't mind it, and he needn't
know.  I'd like to, he's so kind to me about bringing my letters
and lending books."

So I have got his things in order, and knit heels into two
pairs of the socks, for they were boggled out of shape with his
queer darns.  Nothing was said, and I hoped he wouldn't find it
out, but one day last week he caught me at it.  Hearing the
lessons he gives to others has interested and amused me so much
that I took a fancy to learn, for Tina runs in and out, leaving
the door open, and I can hear.  I had been sitting near this
door, finishing off the last sock, and trying to understand what
he said to a new scholar, who is as stupid as I am.  The girl
had gone, and I thought he had also, it was so still, and I was
busily gabbling over a verb, and rocking to and fro in a most
absurd way, when a little crow made me look up, and there was
Mr. Bhaer looking and laughing quietly, while he made signs to
Tina not to betray him.

"So!" he said, as I stopped and stared like a goose, "you
peep at me, I peep at you, and this is not bad, but see, I am
not pleasanting when I say, haf you a wish for German?"

"Yes, but you are too busy.  I am too stupid to learn," I
blundered out, as red as a peony.

"Prut!  We will make the time, and we fail not to find the
sense.  At efening I shall gif a little lesson with much gladness,
for look you, Mees Marsch, I haf this debt to pay."  And
he pointed to my work 'Yes,' they say to one another, these so
kind ladies, 'he is a stupid old fellow, he will see not what we
do, he will never observe that his sock heels go not in holes
any more, he will think his buttons grow out new when they fall,
and believe that strings make theirselves.' "Ah!  But I haf an
eye, and I see much.  I haf a heart, and I feel thanks for this.
Come, a little lesson then and now, or--no more good fairy works
for me and mine."

Of course I couldn't say anything after that, and as it
really is a splendid opportunity, I made the bargain, and we
began.  I took four lessons, and then I stuck fast in a grammatical
bog.  The Professor was very patient with me, but it must
have been torment to him, and now and then he'd look at me
with such an expression of mild despair that it was a toss-up
with me whether to laugh or cry.  I tried both ways, and when
it came to a sniff or utter mortification and woe, he just
threw the grammar on to the floor and marched out of the room.
I felt myself disgraced and deserted forever, but didn't blame
him a particle, and was scrambling my papers together, meaning
to rush upstairs and shake myself hard, when in he came, as
brisk and beaming as if I'd covered myself in glory.

"Now we shall try a new way.  You and I will read these
pleasant little _marchen_ together, and dig no more in that
dry book, that goes in the corner for making us trouble."

He spoke so kindly, and opened Hans Andersons's fairy
tales so invitingly before me, that I was more ashamed than
ever, and went at my lesson in a neck-or-nothing style that
seemed to amuse him immensely.  I forgot my bashfulness, and
pegged away (no other word will express it) with all my might,
tumbling over long words, pronouncing according to inspiration
of the minute, and doing my very best.  When I finished reading
my first page, and stopped for breath, he clapped his hands and
cried out in his hearty way, "Das ist gut! Now we go well!  My
turn.  I do him in German, gif me your ear."  And away he went,
rumbling out the words with his strong voice and a relish which
was good to see as well as hear.  Fortunately the story was _The
Constant Tin Soldier_, which is droll, you know, so I could laugh,
and I did, though I didn't understand half he read, for I couldn't
help it, he was so earnest, I so excited, and the whole thing so
comical.

After that we got on better, and now I read my lessons
pretty well, for this way of studying suits me, and I can see
that the grammar gets tucked into the tales and poetry as one
gives pills in jelly.  I like it very much, and he doesn't seem
tired of it yet, which is very good of him, isn't it?  I mean
to give him something on Christmas, for I dare not offer money.
Tell me something nice, Marmee.

I'm glad Laurie seems so happy and busy, that he has given
up smoking and lets his hair grow.  You see Beth manages him
better than I did.  I'm not jealous, dear, do your best, only
don't make a saint of him.  I'm afraid I couldn't like him
without a spice of human naughtiness.  Read him bits of my
letters.  I haven't time to write much, and that will do just
as well.  Thank Heaven Beth continues so comfortable.

JANUARY

A Happy New Year to you all, my dearest family, which of
course includes Mr. L.  and a young man by the name of Teddy.
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your Christmas bundle,
for I didn't get it till night and had given up hoping.  Your
letter came in the morning, but you said nothing about a
parcel, meaning it for a surprise, so I was disappointed,
for I'd had a 'kind of feeling' that you wouldn't forget me.
I felt a little low in my mind as I sat up in my room after
tea, and when the big, muddy, battered-looking bundle was
brought to me, I just hugged it and pranced.  It was so
homey and refreshing that I sat down on the floor and read
and looked and ate and laughed and cried, in my usual absurd
way.  The things were just what I wanted, and all the better
for being made instead of bought.  Beth's new 'ink bib' was
capital, and Hannah's box of hard gingerbread will be a
treasure.  I'll be sure and wear the nice flannels you sent,
Marmee, and read carefully the books Father has marked.  Thank
you all, heaps and heaps!

Speaking of books reminds me that I'm getting rich in that
line, for on New Year's Day Mr. Bhaer gave me a fine Shakespeare.
It is one he values much, and I've often admired it,
set up in the place of honor with his German Bible, Plato,
Homer, and Milton, so you may imagine how I felt when he brought
it down, without its cover, and showed me my own name in it,
"from my friend Friedrich Bhaer".

"You say often you wish a library.  Here I gif you one, for
between these lids (he meant covers) is many books in one.  Read
him well, and he will help you much, for the study of character
in this book will help you to read it in the world and paint it
with your pen."

I thanked him as well as I could, and talk now about 'my
library', as if I had a hundred books.  I never knew how much
there was in Shakespeare before, but then I never had a Bhaer
to explain it to me.  Now don't laugh at his horrid name.  It
isn't pronounced either Bear or Beer, as people will say it,
but something between the two, as only Germans can give it.
I'm glad you both like what I tell you about him, and hope you
will know him some day.  Mother would admire his warm heart,
Father his wise head.  I admire both, and feel rich in my new
'friend Friedrich Bhaer'.

Not having much money, or knowing what he'd like, I got
several little things, and put them about the room, where he
would find them unexpectedly.  They were useful, pretty, or
funny, a new standish on his table, a little vase for his
flower, he always has one, or a bit of green in a glass, to
keep him fresh, he says, and a holder for his blower, so
that he needn't burn up what Amy calls 'mouchoirs'.  I made
it like those Beth invented, a big butterfly with a fat body,
and black and yellow wings, worsted feelers, and bead eyes.
It took his fancy immensely, and he put it on his mantlepiece
as an article of virtue, so it was rather a failure after all.
Poor as he is, he didn't forget a servant or a child in the
house, and not a soul here, from the French laundrywoman to
Miss Norton forgot him.  I was so glad of that.

They got up a masquerade, and had a gay time New Year's
Eve.  I didn't mean to go down, having no dress.  But at the
last minute, Mrs. Kirke remembered some old brocades, and Miss
Norton lent me lace and feathers.  So I dressed up as Mrs.
Malaprop, and sailed in with a mask on.  No one knew me, for I
disguised my voice, and no one dreamed of the silent, haughty
Miss March (for they think I am very stiff and cool, most of
them, and so I am to whippersnappers) could dance and dress,
and burst out into a 'nice derangement of epitaphs, like an
allegory on the banks of the Nile'.  I enjoyed it very much,
and when we unmasked it was fun to see them stare at me.  I
heard one of the young men tell another that he knew I'd been
an actress, in fact, he thought he remembered seeing me at
one of the minor theaters.  Meg will relish that joke.  Mr.
Bhaer was Nick Bottom, and Tina was Titania, a perfect little
fairy in his arms.  To see them dance was 'quite a landscape',
to use a Teddyism.

I had a very happy New Year, after all, and when I thought
it over in my room, I felt as if I was getting on a little in
spite of my many failures, for I'm cheerful all the time now,
work with a will, and take more interest in other people than
I used to, which is satisfactory.  Bless you all!  Ever your
loving . . .  Jo



CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

FRIEND

Though very happy in the social atmosphere about her, and very busy
with the daily work that earned her bread and made it sweeter for
the effort, Jo still found time for literary labors.  The purpose
which now took possession of her was a natural one to a poor and
ambitious girl, but the means she took to gain her end were not the
best.  She saw that money conferred power, money and power,
therefore, she resolved to have, not to be used for herself alone,
but for those whom she loved more than life.  The dream of filling
home with comforts, giving Beth everything she wanted, from
strawberries in winter to an organ in her bedroom, going abroad
herself, and always having more than enough, so that she might
indulge in the luxury of charity, had been for years Jo's most
cherished castle in the air.

The prize-story experience had seemed to open a way which
might, after long traveling and much uphill work, lead to this
delightful chateau en Espagne.  But the novel disaster quenched
her courage for a time, for public opinion is a giant which has
frightened stouter-hearted Jacks on bigger beanstalks than hers.
Like that immortal hero, she reposed awhile after the first
attempt, which resulted in a tumble and the least lovely of the
giant's treasures, if I remember rightly.  But the 'up again
and take another' spirit was as strong in Jo as in Jack, so
she scrambled up on the shady side this time and got more
booty, but nearly left behind her what was far more precious
than the moneybags.

She took to writing sensation stories, for in those dark
ages, even all-perfect America read rubbish.  She told no one,
but concocted a 'thrilling tale', and boldly carried it herself
to Mr. Dashwood, editor of the Weekly Volcano.  She had
never read Sartor Resartus, but she had a womanly instinct
that clothes possess an influence more powerful over many
than the worth of character or the magic of manners.  So she
dressed herself in her best, and trying to persuade herself
that she was neither excited nor nervous, bravely climbed two
pairs of dark and dirty stairs to find herself in a disorderly
room, a cloud of cigar smoke, and the presence of three gentlemen,
sitting with their heels rather higher than their hats,
which articles of dress none of them took the trouble to remove
on her appearance.  Somewhat daunted by this reception, Jo hesitated
on the threshold, murmuring in much embarrassment . . .

"Excuse me, I was looking for the Weekly Volcano office.
I wished to see Mr. Dashwood."

Down went the highest pair of heels, up rose the smokiest
gentleman, and carefully cherishing his cigar between his
fingers, he advanced with a nod and a countenance expressive
of nothing but sleep.  Feeling that she must get through the
matter somehow, Jo produced her manuscript and, blushing
redder and redder with each sentence, blundered out fragments
of the little speech carefully prepared for the occasion.

"A friend of mine desired me to offer--a story--just as
an experiment--would like your opinion--be glad to write more
if this suits."

While she blushed and blundered, Mr. Dashwood had taken
the manuscript, and was turning over the leaves with a pair
of rather dirty fingers, and casting critical glances up and
down the neat pages.

"Not a first attempt, I take it?" observing that the
pages were numbered, covered only on one side, and not tied
up with a ribbon--sure sign of a novice.

"No, sir.  She has had some experience, and got a prize
for a tale in the _Blarneystone Banner_."

"Oh, did she?" and Mr. Dashwood gave Jo a quick look,
which seemed to take note of everything she had on, from the
bow in her bonnet to the buttons on her boots.  "Well, you
can leave it, if you like.  We've more of this sort of thing
on hand than we know what to do with at present, but I'll run
my eye over it, and give you an answer next week."

Now, Jo did _not_ like to leave it, for Mr. Dashwood didn't
suit her at all, but, under the circumstances, there was nothing
for her to do but bow and walk away, looking particularly tall
and dignified, as she was apt to do when nettled or abashed.
Just then she was both, for it was perfectly evident from the
knowing glances exchanged among the gentlemen that her little
fiction of 'my friend' was considered a good joke, and a
laugh, produced by some inaudible remark of the editor, as
he closed the door, completed her discomfiture.  Half resolving
never to return, she went home, and worked off her
irritation by stitching pinafores vigorously, and in an
hour or two was cool enough to laugh over the scene and long
for next week.

When she went again, Mr. Dashwood was alone, whereat she
rejoiced.  Mr. Dashwood was much wider awake than before,
which was agreeable, and Mr. Dashwood was not too deeply absorbed
in a cigar to remember his manners, so the second
interview was much more comfortable than the first.

"We'll take this (editors never say I), if you don't
object to a few alterations.  It's too long, but omitting
the passages I've marked will make it just the right length,"
he said, in a businesslike tone.

Jo hardly knew her own MS.  again, so crumpled and underscored
were its pages and paragraphs, but feeling as a tender
parent might on being asked to cut off her baby's legs in
order that it might fit into a new cradle, she looked at the
marked passages and was surprised to find that all the moral
reflections--which she had carefully put in as ballast for
much romance--had been stricken out.

"But, Sir, I thought every story should have some sort of
a moral, so I took care to have a few of my sinners repent."

Mr. Dashwoods's editorial gravity relaxed into a smile, for
Jo had forgotten her 'friend', and spoken as only an author
could.

"People want to be amused, not preached at, you know.  Morals
don't sell nowadays."  Which was not quite a correct statement,
by the way.

"You think it would do with these alterations, then?"

"Yes, it's a new plot, and pretty well worked up--language
good, and so on," was Mr. Dashwood's affable reply.

"What do you--that is, what compensation--" began Jo, not
exactly knowing how to express herself.

"Oh, yes, well, we give from twenty-five to thirty for
things of this sort.  Pay when it comes out," returned Mr. Dashwood,
as if that point had escaped him.  Such trifles do escape
the editorial mind, it is said.

"Very well, you can have it," said Jo, handing back the
story with a satisfied air, for after the dollar-a-column work,
even twenty-five seemed good pay.

"Shall I tell my friend you will take another if she has one
better than this?" asked Jo, unconscious of her little slip of
the tongue, and emboldened by her success.

"Well, we'll look at it.  Can't promise to take it.  Tell her
to make it short and spicy, and never mind the moral.  What name
would your friend like to put on it?" in a careless tone.

"None at all, if you please, she doesn't wish her name to
appear and has no nom de plume," said Jo, blushing in spite of
herself.

"Just as she likes, of course.  The tale will be out next week.
Will you call for the money, or shall I send it?" asked Mr. Dashwood,
who felt a natural desire to know who his new contributor might be.

"I'll call.  Good morning, Sir."

As she departed, Mr. Dashwood put up his feet, with the graceful
remark, "Poor and proud, as usual, but she'll do."

Following Mr. Dashwood's directions, and making Mrs. Northbury her
model, Jo rashly took a plunge into the frothy sea of sensational
literature, but thanks to the life preserver thrown her by a friend,
she came up again not much the worse for her ducking.

Like most young scribblers, she went abroad for her characters
and scenery, and banditti, counts, gypsies, nuns, and duchesses
appeared upon her stage, and played their parts with as
much accuracy and spirit as could be expected.  Her readers
were not particular about such trifles as grammar, punctuation,
and probability, and Mr. Dashwood graciously permitted her to
fill his columns at the lowest prices, not thinking it necessary
to tell her that the real cause of his hospitality was the
fact that one of his hacks, on being offered higher wages, had
basely left him in the lurch.

She soon became interested in her work, for her emaciated
purse grew stout, and the little hoard she was making to take
Beth to the mountains next summer grew slowly but surely as
the weeks passed.  One thing disturbed her satisfaction, and
that was that she did not tell them at home.  She had a feeling
that Father and Mother would not approve, and preferred to have
her own way first, and beg pardon afterward.  It was easy to
keep her secret, for no name appeared with her stories.  Mr.
Dashwood had of course found it out very soon, but promised
to be dumb, and for a wonder kept his word.

She thought it would do her no harm, for she sincerely
meant to write nothing of which she would be ashamed, and
quieted all pricks of conscience by anticipations of the
happy minute when she should show her earnings and laugh over
her well-kept secret.

But Mr. Dashwood rejected any but thrilling tales, and as
thrills could not be produced except by harrowing up the souls
of the readers, history and romance, land and sea, science and
art, police records and lunatic asylums, had to be ransacked
for the purpose.  Jo soon found that her innocent experience
had given her but few glimpses of the tragic world which
underlies society, so regarding it in a business light, she set
about supplying her deficiencies with characteristic energy.
Eager to find material for stories, and bent on making them
original in plot, if not masterly in execution, she searched
newspapers for accidents, incidents, and crimes.  She excited
the suspicions of public librarians by asking for works on
poisons.  She studied faces in the street, and characters,
good, bad, and indifferent, all about her.  She delved in
the dust of ancient times for facts or fictions so old that
they were as good as new, and introduced herself to folly, sin,
and misery, as well as her limited opportunities allowed.  She
thought she was prospering finely, but unconsciously she was
beginning to desecrate some of the womanliest attributes of a
woman's character.  She was living in bad society, and imaginary
though it was, its influence affected her, for she was
feeding heart and fancy on dangerous and unsubstantial food,
and was fast brushing the innocent bloom from her nature by
a premature acquaintance with the darker side of life, which
comes soon enough to all of us.

She was beginning to feel rather than see this, for much
describing of other people's passions and feelings set her
to studying and speculating about her own, a morbid amusement
in which healthy young minds do not voluntarily indulge.
Wrongdoing always brings its own punishment, and when Jo
most needed hers, she got it.

I don't know whether the study of Shakespeare helped her to read
character, or the natural instinct of a woman for what was honest,
brave, and strong, but while endowing her imaginary heroes with
every perfection under the sun, Jo was discovering a live hero, who
interested her in spite of many human imperfections.  Mr. Bhaer, in
one of their conversations, had advised her to study simple, true,
and lovely characters, wherever she found them, as good training for
a writer.  Jo took him at his word, for she coolly turned round and
studied him--a proceeding which would have much surprised him, had
he known it, for the worthy Professor was very humble in his own
conceit.

Why everybody liked him was what puzzled Jo, at first.  He
was neither rich nor great, young nor handsome, in no respect
what is called fascinating, imposing, or brilliant, and yet
he was as attractive as a genial fire, and people seemed to
gather about him as naturally as about a warm hearth.  He was
poor, yet always appeared to be giving something away; a
stranger, yet everyone was his friend; no longer young, but
as happy-hearted as a boy; plain and peculiar, yet his face
looked beautiful to many, and his oddities were freely forgiven
for his sake.  Jo often watched him, trying to discover
the charm, and at last decided that it was benevolence which
worked the miracle.  If he had any sorrow, 'it sat with its
head under its wing', and he turned only his sunny side to the
world.  There were lines upon his forehead, but Time seemed
to have touched him gently, remembering how kind he was to
others.  The pleasant curves about his mouth were the memorials
of many friendly words and cheery laughs, his eyes were never
cold or hard, and his big hand had a warm, strong grasp
that was more expressive than words.

His very clothes seemed to partake of the hospitable nature of the
wearer.  They looked as if they were at ease, and liked to make him
comfortable.  His capacious waistcoat was suggestive of a large heart
underneath.  His rusty coat had a social air, and the baggy pockets
plainly proved that little hands often went in empty and came out
full.  His very boots were benevolent, and his collars never stiff
and raspy like other people's.

"That's it!" said Jo to herself, when she at length discovered
that genuine good will toward one's fellow men could beautify
and dignify even a stout German teacher, who shoveled in his dinner,
darned his own socks, and was burdened with the name of Bhaer.

Jo valued goodness highly, but she also possessed a most
feminine respect for intellect, and a little discovery which
she made about the Professor added much to her regard for him.
He never spoke of himself, and no one ever knew that in his
native city he had been a man much honored and esteemed for
learning and integrity, till a countryman came to see him.
He never spoke of himself, and in a conversation with Miss
Norton divulged the pleasing fact.  From her Jo learned it,
and liked it all the better because Mr. Bhaer had never told
it.  She felt proud to know that he was an honored Professor
in Berlin, though only a poor language-master in America,
and his homely, hard-working life was much beautified by the
spice of romance which this discovery gave it.
Another and a better gift than intellect was shown her in
a most unexpected manner.  Miss Norton had the entree into
most society, which Jo would have had no chance of seeing but
for her.  The solitary woman felt an interest in the ambitious
girl, and kindly conferred many favors of this sort both on Jo
and the Professor.  She took them with her one night to a select
symposium, held in honor of several celebrities.

Jo went prepared to bow down and adore the mighty ones
whom she had worshiped with youthful enthusiasm afar off.  But
her reverence for genius received a severe shock that night,
and it took her some time to recover from the discovery that
the great creatures were only men and women after all.  Imagine
her dismay, on stealing a glance of timid admiration at the
poet whose lines suggested an ethereal being fed on 'spirit,
fire, and dew', to behold him devouring his supper with an
ardor which flushed his intellectual countenance.  Turning
as from a fallen idol, she made other discoveries which
rapidly dispelled her romantic illusions.  The great novelist
vibrated between two decanters with the regularity of a pendulum;
the famous divine flirted openly with one of the
Madame de Staels of the age, who looked daggers at another
Corinne, who was amiably satirizing her, after outmaneuvering
her in efforts to absorb the profound philosopher, who imbibed
tea Johnsonianly and appeared to slumber, the loquacity of the
lady rendering speech impossible.  The scientific celebrities,
forgetting their mollusks and glacial periods, gossiped about
art, while devoting themselves to oysters and ices with
characteristic energy; the young musician, who was charming
the city like a second Orpheus, talked horses; and the specimen
of the British nobility present happened to be the most ordinary
man of the party.

Before the evening was half over, Jo felt so completely
disillusioned, that she sat down in a corner to recover herself.
Mr. Bhaer soon joined her, looking rather out of his element,
and presently several of the philosophers, each mounted on his
hobby, came ambling up to hold an intellectual tournament in
the recess.  The conversations were miles beyond Jo's comprehension,
but she enjoyed it, though Kant and Hegel were unknown
gods, the Subjective and Objective unintelligible terms, and
the only thing 'evolved from her inner consciousness' was a
bad headache after it was all over.  It dawned upon her gradually
that the world was being picked to pieces, and put together on
new and, according to the talkers, on infinitely better principles
than before, that religion was in a fair way to be
reasoned into nothingness, and intellect was to be the only
God.  Jo knew nothing about philosophy or metaphysics of any
sort, but a curious excitement, half pleasurable, half painful,
came over her as she listened with a sense of being turned
adrift into time and space, like a young balloon out on a holiday.

She looked round to see how the Professor liked it, and
found him looking at her with the grimmest expression she had
ever seen him wear.  He shook his head and beckoned her to
come away, but she was fascinated just then by the freedom
of Speculative Philosophy, and kept her seat, trying to find
out what the wise gentlemen intended to rely upon after
they had annihilated all the old beliefs.

Now, Mr. Bhaer was a diffident man and slow to offer his
own opinions, not because they were unsettled, but too sincere
and earnest to be lightly spoken.  As he glanced from Jo
to several other young people, attracted by the brilliancy
of the philosophic pyrotechnics, he knit his brows and longed
to speak, fearing that some inflammable young soul would be
led astray by the rockets, to find when the display was over
that they had only an empty stick or a scorched hand.

He bore it as long as he could, but when he was appealed
to for an opinion, he blazed up with honest indignation and
defended religion with all the eloquence of truth--an eloquence
which made his broken English musical and his plain
face beautiful.  He had a hard fight, for the wise men argued
well, but he didn't know when he was beaten and stood to his
colors like a man.  Somehow, as he talked, the world got
right again to Jo.  The old beliefs, that had lasted so long,
seemed better than the new.  God was not a blind force, and
immortality was not a pretty fable, but a blessed fact.  She
felt as if she had solid ground under her feet again, and
when Mr. Bhaer paused, outtalked but not one whit convinced,
Jo wanted to clap her hands and thank him.

She did neither, but she remembered the scene, and gave
the Professor her heartiest respect, for she knew it cost him
an effort to speak out then and there, because his conscience
would not let him be silent.  She began to see that character
is a better possession than money, rank, intellect, or beauty,
and to feel that if greatness is what a wise man has defined
it to be, 'truth, reverence, and good will', then her friend
Friedrich Bhaer was not only good, but great.

This belief strengthened daily.  She valued his esteem,
she coveted his respect, she wanted to be worthy of his friendship,
and just when the wish was sincerest, she came near to
losing everything.  It all grew out of a cocked hat, for one
evening the Professor came in to give Jo her lesson with a
paper soldier cap on his head, which Tina had put there and
he had forgotten to take off.

"It's evident he doesn't look in his glass before coming
down," thought Jo, with a smile, as he said "Goot efening,"
and sat soberly down, quite unconscious of the ludicrous
contrast between his subject and his headgear, for he was
going to read her the Death of Wallenstein.

She said nothing at first, for she liked to hear him laugh
out his big, hearty laugh when anything funny happened, so she
left him to discover it for himself, and presently forgot all
about it, for to hear a German read Schiller is rather an absorbing
occupation.  After the reading came the lesson, which
was a lively one, for Jo was in a gay mood that night, and
the cocked hat kept her eyes dancing with merriment.  The
Professor didn't know what to make of her, and stopped at
last to ask with an air of mild surprise that was irresistible. . .

"Mees Marsch, for what do you laugh in your master's face?
Haf you no respect for me, that you go on so bad?"

"How can I be respectful, Sir, when you forget to take
your hat off?" said Jo.

Lifting his hand to his head, the absent-minded Professor
gravely felt and removed the little cocked hat, looked at it a
minute, and then threw back his head and laughed like a merry
bass viol.

"Ah!  I see him now, it is that imp Tina who makes me a
fool with my cap.  Well, it is nothing, but see you, if this
lesson goes not well, you too shall wear him."

But the lesson did not go at all for a few minutes because
Mr. Bhaer caught sight of a picture on the hat, and unfolding it,
said with great disgust, "I wish these papers did not come in the 
house.  They are not for children to see,  nor young people to read.
It is not well, and I haf no patience with those who make this harm."

Jo glanced at the sheet and saw a pleasing illustration
composed of a lunatic, a corpse, a villain, and a viper.  She
did not like it, but the impulse that made her turn it over
was not one of displeasure but fear, because for a minute
she fancied the paper was the Volcano.  It was not, however,
and her panic subsided as she remembered that even if it
had been and one of her own tales in it, there would have
been no name to betray her.  She had betrayed herself, however,
by a look and a blush, for though an absent man, the
Professor saw a good deal more than people fancied.  He
knew that Jo wrote, and had met her down among the newspaper
offices more than once, but as she never spoke of it,
he asked no questions in spite of a strong desire to see her
work.  Now it occurred to him that she was doing what she
was ashamed to own, and it troubled him.  He did not say to
himself, "It is none of my business.  I've no right to say
anything," as many people would have done.  He only remembered
that she was young and poor, a girl far away from
mother's love and father's care, and he was moved to help
her with an impulse as quick and natural as that which
would prompt him to put out his hand to save a baby from
a puddle.  All this flashed through his mind in a minute,
but not a trace of it appeared in his face, and by the
time the paper was turned, and Jo's needle threaded, he
was ready to say quite naturally, but very gravely . . .

"Yes, you are right to put it from you.  I do not think
that good young girls should see such things.  They are made
pleasant to some, but I would more rather give my boys gunpowder
to play with than this bad trash."

"All may not be bad, only silly, you know, and if there
is a demand for it, I don't see any harm in supplying it.
Many very respectable people make an honest living out of
what are called sensation stories," said Jo, scratching gathers
so energetically that a row of little slits followed her pin.

"There is a demand for whisky, but I think you and I do
not care to sell it.  If the respectable people knew what harm
they did, they would not feel that the living was honest.  They
haf no right to put poison in the sugarplum, and let the small
ones eat it.  No, they should think a little, and sweep mud in
the street before they do this thing."

Mr. Bhaer spoke warmly, and walked to the fire, crumpling
the paper in his hands.  Jo sat still, looking as if the fire
had come to her, for her cheeks burned long after the cocked
hat had turned to smoke and gone harmlessly up the chimney.

"I should like much to send all the rest after him," muttered
the Professor, coming back with a relieved air.

Jo thought what a blaze her pile of papers upstairs would make, and
her hard-earned money lay rather heavily on her conscience at that
minute.  Then she thought consolingly to herself, "Mine are not like
that, they are only silly, never bad, so I won't be worried," and
taking up her book, she said, with a studious face, "Shall we go on,
Sir? I'll be very good and proper now."

"I shall hope so," was all he said, but he meant more than
she imagined, and the grave, kind look he gave her made her
feel as if the words Weekly Volcano were printed in large
type on her forehead.

As soon as she went to her room, she got out her papers,
and carefully reread every one of her stories.  Being a little
shortsighted, Mr. Bhaer sometimes used eye glasses, and Jo
had tried them once, smiling to see how they magnified the
fine print of her book.  Now she seemed to have on the Professor's
mental or moral spectacles also, for the faults of these
poor stories glared at her dreadfully and filled her with dismay.

"They are trash, and will soon be worse trash if I go
on, for each is more sensational than the last.  I've gone
blindly on, hurting myself and other people, for the sake of
money.  I know it's so, for I can't read this stuff in sober
earnest without being horribly ashamed of it, and what should
I do if they were seen at home or Mr. Bhaer got hold of them?"

Jo turned hot at the bare idea, and stuffed the whole bundle
into her stove, nearly setting the chimney afire with the blaze.

"Yes, that's the best place for such inflammable nonsense.
I'd better burn the house down, I suppose, than let other
people blow themselves up with my gunpowder," she thought as
she watched the Demon of the Jura whisk away, a little black
cinder with fiery eyes.

But when nothing remained of all her three month's work
except a heap of ashes and the money in her lap, Jo looked
sober, as she sat on the floor, wondering what she ought to
do about her wages.

"I think I haven't done much harm yet, and may keep this
to pay for my time," she said, after a long meditation, adding
impatiently, "I almost wish I hadn't any conscience, it's so
inconvenient.  If I didn't care about doing right, and didn't
feel uncomfortable when doing wrong, I should get on capitally.
I can't help wishing sometimes, that Mother and Father hadn't
been so particular about such things."

Ah, Jo, instead of wishing that, thank God that 'Father
and Mother were particular', and pity from your heart those
who have no such guardians to hedge them round with principles
which may seem like prison walls to impatient youth,
but which will prove sure foundations to build character upon
in womanhood.

Jo wrote no more sensational stories, deciding that the
money did not pay for her share of the sensation, but going
to the other extreme, as is the way with people of her stamp,
she took a course of Mrs. Sherwood, Miss Edgeworth, and Hannah
More, and then produced a tale which might have been more
properly called an essay or a sermon, so intensely moral
was it.  She had her doubts about it from the beginning, for
her lively fancy and girlish romance felt as ill at ease in the
new style as she would have done masquerading in the stiff
and cumbrous costume of the last century.  She sent this didactic
gem to several markets, but it found no purchaser,
and she was inclined to agree with Mr. Dashwood that morals
didn't sell.

Then she tried a child's story, which she could easily have
disposed of if she had not been mercenary enough to demand filthy
lucre for it.  The only person who offered enough to make it
worth her while to try juvenile literature was a worthy gentleman
who felt it his mission to convert all the world to his
particular belief.  But much as she liked to write for children,
Jo could not consent to depict all her naughty boys as
being eaten by bears or tossed by mad bulls because they did
not go to a particular Sabbath school, nor all the good infants
who did go as rewarded by every kind of bliss, from gilded
gingerbread to escorts of angels when they departed this life
with psalms or sermons on their lisping tongues.  So nothing
came of these trials, and Jo corked up her inkstand, and
said in a fit of very wholesome humility . . .

"I don't know anything.  I'll wait until I do before I try
again, and meantime, 'sweep mud in the street' if I can't do
better, that's honest, at least."  Which decision proved that
her second tumble down the beanstalk had done her some good.

While these internal revolutions were going on, her external
life had been as busy and uneventful as usual, and if she
sometimes looked serious or a little sad no one observed
it but Professor Bhaer.  He did it so quietly that Jo never
knew he was watching to see if she would accept and profit by
his reproof, but she stood the test, and he was satisfied, for
though no words passed between them, he knew that she had
given up writing.  Not only did he guess it by the fact that
the second finger of her right hand was no longer inky, but
she spent her evenings downstairs now, was met no more among
newspaper offices, and studied with a dogged patience, which
assured him that she was bent on occupying her mind with
something useful, if not pleasant.

He helped her in many ways, proving himself a true friend,
and Jo was happy, for while her pen lay idle, she was learning
other lessons besides German, and laying a foundation for the
sensation story of her own life.

It was a pleasant winter and a long one, for she did not
leave Mrs. Kirke till June.  Everyone seemed sorry when the time
came.  The children were inconsolable, and Mr. Bhaer's hair
stuck straight up all over his head, for he always rumpled it
wildly when disturbed in mind.

"Going home?  Ah, you are happy that you haf a home to go
in," he said, when she told him, and sat silently pulling his
beard in the corner, while she held a little levee on that last
evening.

She was going early, so she bade them all goodbye overnight,
and when his turn came, she said warmly, "Now, Sir, you won't
forget to come and see us, if you ever travel our way, will you?
I'll never forgive you if you do, for I want them all to know my
friend."

"Do you?  Shall I come?" he asked, looking down at her with
an eager expression which she did not see.

"Yes, come next month.  Laurie graduates then, and you'd
enjoy commencement as something new."

"That is your best friend, of whom you speak?" he said in
an altered tone.

"Yes, my boy Teddy.  I'm very proud of him and should like
you to see him."

Jo looked up then, quite unconscious of anything but her
own pleasure in the prospect of showing them to one another.
Something in Mr. Bhaer's face suddenly recalled the fact that
she might find Laurie more than a 'best friend', and simply
because she particularly wished not to look as if anything was
the matter, she involuntarily began to blush, and the more she
tried not to, the redder she grew.  If it had not been for Tina
on her knee.  She didn't know what would have become of her.
Fortunately the child was moved to hug her, so she managed to
hide her face an instant, hoping the Professor did not see it.
But he did, and his own changed again from that momentary anxiety
to its usual expression, as he said cordially . . .

"I fear I shall not make the time for that, but I wish the friend
much success, and you all happiness.  Gott bless you!"  And with that,
he shook hands warmly, shouldered Tina, and went away.

But after the boys were abed, he sat long before his fire
with the tired look on his face and the 'heimweh', or homesickness,
lying heavy at his heart.  Once, when he remembered
Jo as she sat with the little child in her lap and that new
softness in her face, he leaned his head on his hands a minute,
and then roamed about the room, as if in search of something
that he could not find.

"It is not for me, I must not hope it now," he said to himself,
with a sigh that was almost a groan.  Then, as if reproaching
himself for the longing that he could not repress, he went
and kissed the two tousled heads upon the pillow, took down his
seldom-used meerschaum, and opened his Plato.

He did his best and did it manfully, but I don't think he found
that a pair of rampant boys, a pipe, or even the divine Plato,
were very satisfactory substitutes for wife and child at home.

Early as it was, he was at the station next morning to see
Jo off, and thanks to him, she began her solitary journey with
the pleasant memory of a familiar face smiling its farewell, a
bunch of violets to keep her company, and best of all, the happy
thought, "Well, the winter's gone, and I've written no books,
earned no fortune, but I've made a friend worth having and I'll
try to keep him all my life."



CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

HEARTACHE

Whatever his motive might have been, Laurie studied to
some purpose that year, for he graduated with honor, and
gave the Latin oration with the grace of a Phillips and the
eloquence of a Demosthenes, so his friends said.  They were
all there, his grandfather--oh, so proud--Mr. and Mrs. March,
John and Meg, Jo and Beth, and all exulted over him with the
sincere admiration which boys make light of at the time, but
fail to win from the world by any after-triumphs.

"I've got to stay for this confounded supper, but I shall
be home early tomorrow.  You'll come and meet me as usual,
girls?" Laurie said, as he put the sisters into the carriage
after the joys of the day were over.  He said 'girls', but he
meant Jo, for she was the only one who kept up the old custom.
She had not the heart to refuse her splendid, successful boy
anything, and answered warmly . . .

"I'll come, Teddy, rain or shine, and march before you,
playing 'Hail the conquering hero comes' on a jew's-harp."

Laurie thanked her with a look that made her think in a
sudden panic, "Oh, deary me!  I know he'll say something, and
then what shall I do?"

Evening meditation and morning work somewhat allayed her
fears, and having decided that she wouldn't be vain enough
to think people were going to propose when she had given them
every reason to know what her answer would be, she set forth
at the appointed time, hoping Teddy wouldn't do anything to
make her hurt his poor feelings.  A call at Meg's, and a
refreshing sniff and sip at the Daisy and Demijohn, still
further fortified her for the tete-a-tete, but when she saw
a stalwart figure looming in the distance, she had a strong
desire to turn about and run away.

"Where's the jew's-harp, Jo?" cried Laurie, as soon as
he was within speaking distance.

"I forgot it." And Jo took heart again, for that salutation
could not be called lover-like.

She always used to take his arm on these occasions, now
she did not, and he made no complaint, which was a bad sign,
but talked on rapidly about all sorts of faraway subjects,
till they turned from the road into the little path that led
homeward through the grove.  Then he walked more slowly, suddenly
lost his fine flow of language, and now and then a dreadful
pause occurred.  To rescue the conversation from one of
the wells of silence into which it kept falling, Jo said
hastily, "Now you must have a good long holiday!"

"I intend to."

Something in his resolute tone made Jo look up quickly to
find him looking down at her with an expression that assured
her the dreaded moment had come, and made her put out her hand
with an imploring, "No, Teddy.  Please don't!"

"I will, and you must hear me.  It's no use, Jo, we've got
to have it out, and the sooner the better for both of us," he
answered, getting flushed and excited all at once.

"Say what you like then.  I'll listen," said Jo, with a
desperate sort of patience.

Laurie was a young lover, but he was in earnest, and meant
to 'have it out', if he died in the attempt, so he plunged into
the subject with characteristic impetuousity, saying in a voice
that would get choky now and then, in spite of manful efforts to
keep it steady . . .

"I've loved you ever since I've known you, Jo, couldn't help
it, you've been so good to me.  I've tried to show it, but you
wouldn't let me.  Now I'm going to make you hear, and give me an
answer, for I can't go on so any longer."

"I wanted to save you this.  I thought you'd understand . . ."
began Jo, finding it a great deal harder than she expected.

"I know you did, but the girls are so queer you never know
what they mean.  They say no when they mean yes, and drive a
man out of his wits just for the fun of it," returned Laurie,
entrenching himself behind an undeniable fact.

"I don't.  I never wanted to make you care for me so, and
I went away to keep you from it if I could."

"I thought so.  It was like you, but it was no use.  I
only loved you all the more, and I worked hard to please you,
and I gave up billiards and everything you didn't like, and
waited and never complained, for I hoped you'd love me, though
I'm not half good enough . . ." Here there was a choke that
couldn't be controlled, so he decapitated buttercups while he
cleared his 'confounded throat'.

"You, you are, you're a great deal too good for me, and
I'm so grateful to you, and so proud and fond of you, I don't
know why I can't love you as you want me to.  I've tried, but
I can't change the feeling, and it would be a lie to say I do
when I don't."

"Really, truly, Jo?"

He stopped short, and caught both her hands as he put
his question with a look that she did not soon forget.

"Really, truly, dear."

They were in the grove now, close by the stile, and when
the last words fell reluctantly from Jo's lips, Laurie dropped
her hands and turned as if to go on, but for once in his life
the fence was too much for him.  So he just laid his head down
on the mossy post, and stood so still that Jo was frightened.

"Oh, Teddy, I'm sorry, so desperately sorry, I could kill
myself if it would do any good!  I wish you wouldn't take it
so hard, I can't help it.  You know it's impossible for people
to make themselves love other people if they don't," cried Jo
inelegantly but remorsefully, as she softly patted his shoulder,
remembering the time when he had comforted her so long ago.

"They do sometimes," said a muffled voice from the post.
"I don't believe it's the right sort of love, and I'd
rather not try it," was the decided answer.

There was a long pause, while a blackbird sung blithely on
the willow by the river, and the tall grass rustled in the wind.
Presently Jo said very soberly, as she sat down on the step of
the stile, "Laurie, I want to tell you something."

He started as if he had been shot, threw up his head, and
cried out in a fierce tone, "Don't tell me that, Jo, I can't bear
it now!"

"Tell what?" she asked, wondering at his violence.

"That you love that old man."

"What old man?" demanded Jo, thinking he must mean his
grandfather.

"That devilish Professor you were always writing about.
If you say you love him, I know I shall do something desperate;"
and he looked as if he would keep his word, as he clenched
his hands with a wrathful spark in his eyes.

Jo wanted to laugh, but restrained herself and said warmly,
for she too, was getting excited with all this, "Don't swear,
Teddy!  He isn't old, nor anything bad, but good and kind, and
the best friend I've got, next to you.  Pray, don't fly into
a passion.  I want to be kind, but I know I shall get angry if
you abuse my Professor.  I haven't the least idea of loving
him or anybody else."

"But you will after a while, and then what will become of me?"

"You'll love someone else too, like a sensible boy, and
forget all this trouble."

"I can't love anyone else, and I'll never forget you, Jo,
Never! Never!" with a stamp to emphasize his passionate words.

"What shall I do with him?" sighed Jo, finding that emotions
were more unmanagable than she expected.  "You haven't heard
what I wanted to tell you.  Sit down and listen, for indeed I
want to do right and make you happy," she said, hoping to soothe
him with a little reason, which proved that she knew nothing
about love.

Seeing a ray of hope in that last speech, Laurie threw himself
down on the grass at her feet, leaned his arm on the lower
step of the stile, and looked up at her with an expectant face.
Now that arrangement was not conducive to calm speech or clear
thought on Jo's part, for how could she say hard things to her
boy while he watched her with eyes full of love and longing,
and lashes still wet with the bitter drop or two her hardness
of heart had wrung from him?  She gently turned his head away,
saying, as she stroked the wavy hair which had been allowed to
grow for her sake--how touching that was, to be sure!
"I agree with Mother that you and I are not suited to each
other, because our quick tempers and strong wills would probably
make us very miserable, if we were so foolish as to . . ."
Jo paused a little over the last word, but Laurie uttered it
with a rapturous expression.

"Marry--no we shouldn't!  If you loved me, Jo, I should
be a perfect saint, for you could make me anything you like."

"No, I can't.  I've tried and failed, and I won't risk
our happiness by such a serious experiment.  We don't agree and
we never shall, so we'll be good friends all our lives, but we
won't go and do anything rash."

"Yes, we will if we get the chance," muttered Laurie rebelliously.

"Now do be reasonable, and take a sensible view of the case,"
implored Jo, almost at her wit's end.

"I won't be reasonable.  I don't want to take what you
call 'a sensible view'.  It won't help me, and it only makes
it harder.  I don't believe you've got any heart."

"I wish I hadn't."

There was a little quiver in Jo's voice, and thinking it a
good omen, Laurie turned round, bringing all his persuasive
powers to bear as he said, in the wheedlesome tone that had
never been so dangerously wheedlesome before, "Don't disappoint
us, dear!  Everyone expects it.  Grandpa has set his heart upon
it, your people like it, and I can't get on without you.  Say
you will, and let's be happy.  Do, do!"

Not until months afterward did Jo understand how she had
the strength of mind to hold fast to the resolution she had
made when she decided that she did not love her boy, and
never could.  It was very hard to do, but she did it, knowing
that delay was both useless and cruel.

"I can't say 'yes' truly, so I won't say it at all.  You'll
see that I'm right, by-and-by, and thank me for it . . ." she
began solemnly.

"I'll be hanged if I do!" and Laurie bounced up off the
grass, burning with indignation at the very idea.

"Yes, you will!" persisted Jo.  "You'll get over this after
a while, and find some lovely accomplished girl, who will adore
you, and make a fine mistress for your fine house.  I shouldn't.
I'm homely and awkward and odd and old, and you'd be ashamed
of me, and we should quarrel--we can't help it even now, you
see--and I shouldn't like elegant society and you would, and 
you'd hate my scribbling, and I couldn't get on without it, 
and we should be unhappy, and wish we hadn't done it, and 
everything would be horrid!"

"Anything more?" asked Laurie, finding it hard to
listen patiently to this prophetic burst.

"Nothing more, except that I don't believe I shall ever
marry.  I'm happy as I am, and love my liberty too well to
be in a hurry to give it up for any mortal man."

"I know better!" broke in Laurie.  "You think so now,
but there'll come a time when you will care for somebody, and
you'll love him tremendously, and live and die for him.  I
know you will, it's your way, and I shall have to stand by
and see it," and the despairing lover cast his hat upon the
ground with a gesture that would have seemed comical, if his
face had not been so tragic.

"Yes, I will live and die for him, if he ever comes and
makes me love him in spite of myself, and you must do the best
you can!" cried Jo, losing patience with poor Teddy.  "I've
done my best, but you won't be reasonable, and it's selfish
of you to keep teasing for what I can't give.  I shall always
be fond of you, very fond indeed, as a friend, but I'll never
marry you, and the sooner you believe it the better for both
of us--so now!"

That speech was like gunpowder.  Laurie looked at her a
minute as if he did not quite know what to do with himself,
then turned sharply away, saying in a desperate sort of tone,
"You'll be sorry some day, Jo."

"Oh, where are you going?" she cried, for his face frightened her.

"To the devil!" was the consoling answer.

For a minute Jo's heart stood still, as he swung himself
down the bank toward the river, but it takes much folly, sin
or misery to send a young man to a violent death, and Laurie
was not one of the weak sort who are conquered by a single
failure.  He had no thought of a melodramatic plunge, but
some blind instinct led him to fling hat and coat into his boat,
and row away with all his might, making better time up the
river than he had done in any race.  Jo drew a long breath and
unclasped her hands as she watched the poor fellow trying to
outstrip the trouble which he carried in his heart.

"That will do him good, and he'll come home in such a
tender, penitent state of mind, that I shan't dare to see him,"
she said, adding, as she went slowly home, feeling as if she
had murdered some innocent thing, and buried it under the
leaves.  "Now I must go and prepare Mr. Laurence to be very
kind to my poor boy.  I wish he'd love Beth, perhaps he may
in time, but I begin to think I was mistaken about her.  Oh
dear!  How can girls like to have lovers and refuse them?  I
think it's dreadful."

Being sure that no one could do it so well as herself, she
went straight to Mr. Laurence, told the hard story bravely
through, and then broke down, crying so dismally over her own
insensibility that the kind old gentleman, though sorely disappointed,
did not utter a reproach.  He found it difficult to understand
how any girl could help loving Laurie, and hoped she would
change her mind, but he knew even better than Jo that love
cannot be forced, so he shook his head sadly and resolved
to carry his boy out of harm's way, for Young Impetuosity's
parting words to Jo disturbed him more than he would confess.

When Laurie came home, dead tired but quite composed, his
grandfather met him as if he knew nothing, and kept up the
delusion very successfully for an hour or two.  But when they
sat together in the twilight, the time they used to enjoy so
much, it was hard work for the old man to ramble on as usual,
and harder still for the young one to listen to praises of
the last year's success, which to him now seemed like love's
labor lost.  He bore it as long as he could, then went to
his piano and began to play.  The window's were open, and Jo,
walking in the garden with Beth, for once understood music
better than her sister, for he played the '_Sonata Pathetique_',
and played it as he never did before.

"That's very fine, I dare say, but it's sad enough to make
one cry.  Give us something gayer, lad," said Mr. Laurence,
whose kind old heart was full of sympathy, which he longed to
show but knew not how.

Laurie dashed into a livelier strain, played stormily for
several minutes, and would have got through bravely, if in a
momentary lull Mrs. March's voice had not been heard calling,
"Jo, dear, come in.  I want you."

Just what Laurie longed to say, with a different meaning!
As he listened, he lost his place, the music ended with a broken
chord, and the musician sat silent in the dark.

"I can't stand this," muttered the old gentleman.  Up he
got, groped his way to the piano, laid a kind hand on either
of the broad shoulders, and said, as gently as a woman, "I
know, my boy, I know."

No answer for an instant, then Laurie asked sharply, "Who
told you?"

"Jo herself."

"Then there's an end of it!"  And he shook off his grandfather's
hands with an impatient motion, for though grateful
for the sympathy, his man's pride could not bear a man's pity.

"Not quite.  I want to say one thing, and then there shall
be an end of it," returned Mr. Laurence with unusual mildness.
"You won't care to stay at home now, perhaps?"

"I don't intend to run away from a girl.  Jo can't prevent
my seeing her, and I shall stay and do it as long as I like,"
interrupted Laurie in a defiant tone.

"Not if you are the gentleman I think you.  I'm disappointed,
but the girl can't help it, and the only thing left
for you to do is to go away for a time.  Where will you go?"

"Anywhere.  I don't care what becomes of me," and Laurie
got up with a reckless laugh that grated on his grandfather's
ear.

"Take it like a man, and don't do anything rash, for God's
sake.  Why not go abroad, as you planned, and forget it?"

"I can't."

"But you've been wild to go, and I promised you should
when you got through college."

"Ah, but I didn't mean to go alone!" and Laurie walked
fast through the room with an expression which it was well
his grandfather did not see.

"I don't ask you to go alone.  There's someone ready and
glad to go with you, anywhere in the world."

"Who, Sir?" stopping to listen.

"Myself."

Laurie came back as quickly as he went, and put out his hand, saying
huskily, "I'm a selfish brute, but--you know--Grandfather--"

"Lord help me, yes, I do know, for I've been through it all
before, once in my own young days, and then with your father.
Now, my dear boy, just sit quietly down and hear my plan.  It's
all settled, and can be carried out at once," said Mr. Laurence,
keeping hold of the young man, as if fearful that he would break
away as his father had done before him.

"Well, sir, what is it?" and Laurie sat down, without a
sign of interest in face or voice.

"There is business in London that needs looking after.  I
meant you should attend to it, but I can do it better myself,
and things here will get on very well with Brooke to manage
them.  My partners do almost everything, I'm merely holding
on until you take my place, and can be off at any time."

"But you hate traveling, Sir.  I can't ask it of you at
your age," began Laurie, who was grateful for the sacrifice,
but much preferred to go alone, if he went at all.

The old gentleman knew that perfectly well, and particularly
desired to prevent it, for the mood in which he found his
grandson assured him that it would not be wise to leave him to
his own devices.  So, stifling a natural regret at the thought
of the home comforts he would leave behind him, he said stoutly,
"Bless your soul, I'm not superannuated yet.  I quite enjoy the
idea.  It will do me good, and my old bones won't suffer, for
traveling nowadays is almost as easy as sitting in a chair."

A restless movement from Laurie suggested that his chair
was not easy, or that he did not like the plan, and made the
old man add hastily, "I don't mean to be a marplot or a burden.
I go because I think you'd feel happier than if I was
left behind.  I don't intend to gad about with you, but leave
you free to go where you like, while I amuse myself in my own
way.  I've friends in London and Paris, and should like to
visit them.  Meantime you can go to Italy, Germany, Switzerland,
where you will, and enjoy pictures, music, scenery,
and adventures to your heart's content."

Now, Laurie felt just then that his heart was entirely
broken and the world a howling wilderness, but at the sound
of certain words which the old gentleman artfully introduced
into his closing sentence, the broken heart gave an unexpected
leap, and a green oasis or two suddenly appeared in the howling
wilderness.  He sighed, and then said, in a spiritless tone,
"Just as you like, Sir.  It doesn't matter where I go or what I do."

"It does to me, remember that, my lad.  I give you entire
liberty, but I trust you to make an honest use of it.  Promise
me that, Laurie."

"Anything you like, Sir."

"Good," thought the old gentleman.  "You don't care now,
but there'll come a time when that promise will keep you out
of mischief, or I'm much mistaken."

Being an energetic individual, Mr. Laurence struck while
the iron was hot, and before the blighted being recovered spirit
enough to rebel, they were off.  During the time necessary for
preparation, Laurie bore himself as young gentleman usually do
in such cases.  He was moody, irritable, and pensive by turns,
lost his appetite, neglected his dress and devoted much time
to playing tempestuously on his piano, avoided Jo, but consoled
himself by staring at her from his window, with a tragic
face that haunted her dreams by night and oppressed her with a
heavy sense of guilt by day.  Unlike some sufferers, he never
spoke of his unrequited passion, and would allow no one, not
even Mrs. March, to attempt consolation or offer sympathy.  On
some accounts, this was a relief to his friends, but the weeks
before his departure were very uncomfortable, and everyone rejoiced
that the 'poor, dear fellow was going away to forget his
trouble, and come home happy'.  Of course, he smiled darkly at
their delusion, but passed it by with the sad superiority of
one who knew that his fidelity like his love was unalterable.

When the parting came he affected high spirits, to conceal
certain inconvenient emotions which seemed inclined to assert
themselves.  This gaiety did not impose upon anybody, but they
tried to look as if it did for his sake, and he got on very well
till Mrs. March kissed him, with a whisper full of motherly
solicitude.  Then feeling that he was going very fast, he hastily
embraced them all round, not forgetting the afflicted Hannah, and
ran downstairs as if for his life.  Jo followed a minute after to
wave her hand to him if he looked round.  He did look round, came
back, put his arms about her as she stood on the step above him,
and looked up at her with a face that made his short appeal eloquent
and pathetic.

"Oh, Jo, can't you?"

"Teddy, dear, I wish I could!"

That was all, except a little pause.  Then Laurie straightened
himself up, said, "It's all right, never mind," and went away without
another word.  Ah, but it wasn't all right, and Jo did mind, for
while the curly head lay on her arm a minute after her hard answer,
she felt as if she had stabbed her dearest friend, and when he left
her without a look behind him, she knew that the boy Laurie never
would come again.



CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

BETH'S SECRET

When Jo came home that spring, she had been struck with
the change in Beth.  No one spoke of it or seemed aware of it,
for it had come too gradually to startle those who saw her
daily, but to eyes sharpened by absence, it was very plain and
a heavy weight fell on Jo's heart as she saw her sister's face.
It was no paler and but littler thinner than in the autumn, yet
there was a strange, transparent look about it, as if the mortal
was being slowly refined away, and the immortal shining through
the frail flesh with an indescribably pathetic beauty.  Jo saw
and felt it, but said nothing at the time, and soon the first
impression lost much of its power, for Beth seemed happy, no
one appeared to doubt that she was better, and presently in
other cares Jo for a time forgot her fear.

But when Laurie was gone, and peace prevailed again, the
vague anxiety returned and haunted her.  She had confessed
her sins and been forgiven, but when she showed her savings
and proposed a mountain trip, Beth had thanked her heartily,
but begged not to go so far away from home.  Another little
visit to the seashore would suit her better, and as Grandma
could not be prevailed upon to leave the babies, Jo took Beth
down to the quiet place, where she could live much in the
open air, and let the fresh sea breezes blow a little color
into her pale cheeks.

It was not a fashionable place, but even among the pleasant
people there, the girls made few friends, preferring to live for
one another.  Beth was too shy to enjoy society, and Jo too
wrapped up in her to care for anyone else.  So they were all in
all to each other, and came and went, quite unconscious of the
interest they exited in those about them, who watched with sympathetic
eyes the strong sister and the feeble one, always
together, as if they felt instinctively that a long separation
was not far away.

They did feel it, yet neither spoke of it, for often between
ourselves and those nearest and dearest to us there exists a reserve
which it is very hard to overcome.  Jo felt as if a veil
had fallen between her heart and Beth's, but when she put out
her hand to lift it up, there seemed something sacred in the
silence, and she waited for Beth to speak.  She wondered, and
was thankful also, that her parents did not seem to see what
she saw, and during the quiet weeks when the shadows grew so
plain to her, she said nothing of it to those at home, believing
that it would tell itself when Beth came back no better.
She wondered still more if her sister really guessed the hard
truth, and what thoughts were passing through her mind during
the long hours when she lay on the warm rocks with her head in
Jo's lap, while the winds blew healthfully over her and the sea
made music at her feet.

One day Beth told her.  Jo thought she was asleep, she lay
so still, and putting down her book, sat looking at her with
wistful eyes, trying to see signs of hope in the faint color on
Beth's cheeks.  But she could not find enough to satisfy her,
for the cheeks were very thin, and the hands seemed too feeble
to hold even the rosy little shells they had been collecting.
It came to her then more bitterly than ever that Beth was
slowly drifting away from her, and her arms instinctively
tightened their hold upon the dearest treasure she possessed.
For a minute her eyes were too dim for seeing, and when they
cleared, Beth was looking up at her so tenderly that there was
hardly any need for her to say, "Jo, dear, I'm glad you know
it.  I've tried to tell you, but I couldn't."

There was no answer except her sister's cheek against her
own, not even tears, for when most deeply moved, Jo did not
cry.  She was the weaker then, and Beth tried to comfort and
sustain her, with her arms about her and the soothing words
she whispered in her ear.

"I've known it for a good while, dear, and now I'm used
to it, it isn't hard to think of or to bear.  Try to see it so
and don't be troubled about me, because it's best, indeed it is."

"Is this what made you so unhappy in the autumn, Beth? You
did not feel it then, and keep it to yourself so long, did you?"
asked Jo, refusing to see or say that it was best, but glad to
know that Laurie had no part in Beth's trouble.

"Yes, I gave up hoping then, but I didn't like to own it.
I tried to think it was a sick fancy, and would not let it
trouble anyone.  But when I saw you all so well and strong and
full of happy plans, it was hard to feel that I could never be
like you, and then I was miserable, Jo."

"Oh, Beth, and you didn't tell me, didn't let me comfort and
help you?  How could you shut me out, bear it all alone?"

Jo's voice was full of tender reproach, and her heart ached
to think of the solitary struggle that must have gone on while
Beth learned to say goodbye to health, love, and life, and take
up her cross so cheerfully.

"Perhaps it was wrong, but I tried to do right.  I wasn't sure,
no one said anything, and I hoped I was mistaken.  It would have
been selfish to frighten you all when Marmee was so anxious about
Meg, and Amy away, and you so happy with Laurie--at least I thought
so then."

"And I thought you loved him, Beth, and I went away because
I couldn't," cried Jo, glad to say all the truth.

Beth looked so amazed at the idea that Jo smiled in spite
of her pain, and added softly, "Then you didn't, dearie? I was
afraid it was so, and imagined your poor little heart full of
lovelornity all that while."

"Why, Jo, how could I, when he was so fond of you?" asked
Beth, as innocently as a child.  "I do love him dearly.  He is
so good to me, how can I help It?  But he could never be anything
to me but my brother.  I hope he truly will be, sometime."

"Not through me," said Jo decidedly.  "Amy is left for him,
and they would suit excellently, but I have no heart for such
things, now.  I don't care what becomes of anybody but you, Beth.
You must get well."

"I want to, oh, so much!  I try, but every day I lose a little,
and feel more sure that I shall never gain it back.  It's like the
tide, Jo, when it turns, it goes slowly, but it can't be stopped."

"It shall be stopped, your tide must not turn so soon, nineteen
is too young, Beth.  I can't let you go.  I'll work and pray
and fight against it.  I'll keep you in spite of everything.  There
must be ways, it can't be too late.  God won't be so cruel as to
take you from me," cried poor Jo rebelliously, for her spirit was
far less piously submissive than Beth's.

Simple, sincere people seldom speak much of their piety.  It
shows itself in acts rather than in words, and has more influence
than homilies or protestations.  Beth could not reason upon or
explain the faith that gave her courage and patience to give up
life, and cheerfully wait for death.  Like a confiding child, she
asked no questions, but left everything to God and nature, Father
and Mother of us all, feeling sure that they, and they only,
could teach and strengthen heart and spirit for this life and
the life to come.  She did not rebuke Jo with saintly speeches,
only loved her better for her passionate affection, and clung
more closely to the dear human love, from which our Father never
means us to be weaned, but through which He draws us closer to
Himself.  She could not say, "I'm glad to go," for life was very
sweet for her.  She could only sob out, "I try to be willing,"
while she held fast to Jo, as the first bitter wave of this
great sorrow broke over them together.

By and by Beth said, with recovered serenity, "You'll tell
them this when we go home?"

"I think they will see it without words," sighed Jo, for now
it seemed to her that Beth changed every day.

"Perhaps not.  I've heard that the people who love best are
often blindest to such things.  If they don't see it, you will tell
them for me.  I don't want any secrets, and it's kinder to prepare
them.  Meg has John and the babies to comfort her, but you must
stand by Father and Mother, won't you Jo?"

"If I can.  But, Beth, I don't give up yet.  I'm going to believe
that it is a sick fancy, and not let you think it's true."
said Jo, trying to speak cheerfully.

Beth lay a minute thinking, and then said in her quiet way,
"I don't know how to express myself, and shouldn't try to anyone
but you, because I can't speak out except to my Jo.  I only mean
to say that I have a feeling that it never was intended I should
live long.  I'm not like the rest of you.  I never made any plans
about what I'd do when I grew up.  I never thought of being married,
as you all did.  I couldn't seem to imagine myself anything
but stupid little Beth, trotting about at home, of no use anywhere
but there.  I never wanted to go away, and the hard part now is
the leaving you all.  I'm not afraid, but it seems as if I should
be homesick for you even in heaven."

Jo could not speak, and for several minutes there was no
sound but the sigh of the wind and the lapping of the tide.  A
white-winged gull flew by, with the flash of sunshine on its
silvery breast.  Beth watched it till it vanished, and her eyes
were full of sadness.  A little gray-coated sand bird came tripping
over the beach 'peeping' softly to itself, as if enjoying
the sun and sea.  It came quite close to Beth, and looked at her
with a friendly eye and sat upon a warm stone, dressing its wet
feathers, quite at home.  Beth smiled and felt comforted, for
the tiny thing seemed to offer its small friendship and remind
her that a pleasant world was still to be enjoyed.

"Dear little bird!  See, Jo, how tame it is.  I like peeps
better than the gulls.  They are not so wild and handsome, but
they seem happy, confiding little things.  I used to call them
my birds last summer, and Mother said they reminded her of me
--busy, quaker-colored creatures, always near the shore, and
always chirping that contented little song of theirs.  You are
the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind,
flying far out to sea, and happy all alone.  Meg is the turtledove,
and Amy is like the lark she writes about, trying to get
up among the clouds, but always dropping down into its nest
again.  Dear little girl!  She's so ambitious, but her heart is
good and tender, and no matter how high she flies, she never
will forget home.  I hope I shall see her again, but she seems
so far away."

"She is coming in the spring, and I mean that you shall be
all ready to see and enjoy her.  I'm going to have you well and
rosy by that time," began Jo, feeling that of all the changes
in Beth, the talking change was the greatest, for it seemed to
cost no effort now, and she thought aloud in a way quite unlike
bashful Beth.

"Jo, dear, don't hope any more.  It won't do any good.  I'm
sure of that.  We won't be miserable, but enjoy being together
while we wait.  We'll have happy times, for I don't suffer much,
and I think the tide will go out easily, if you help me."

Jo leaned down to kiss the tranquil face, and with that
silent kiss, she dedicated herself soul and body to Beth.

She was right.  There was no need of any words when they
got home, for Father and Mother saw plainly now what they had
prayed to be saved from seeing.  Tired with her short journey,
Beth went at once to bed, saying how glad she was to be home,
and when Jo went down, she found that she would be spared the
hard task of telling Beth's secret.  Her father stood leaning
his head on the mantelpiece and did not turn as she came in,
but her mother stretched out her arms as if for help, and Jo
went to comfort her without a word.



CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

NEW IMPRESSIONS

At three o'clock in the afternoon, all the fashionable world at Nice
may be seen on the Promenade des Anglais--a charming place, for the
wide walk, bordered with palms, flowers, and tropical shrubs, is
bounded on one side by the sea, on the other by the grand drive,
lined with hotels and villas, while beyond lie orange orchards and
the hills.  Many nations are represented, many languages spoken, many
costumes worn, and on a sunny day the spectacle is as gay and
brilliant as a carnival.  Haughty English, lively French, sober
Germans, handsome Spaniards, ugly Russians, meek Jews, free-and-easy
Americans, all drive, sit, or saunter here, chatting over the news,
and criticizing the latest celebrity who has arrived--Ristori or
Dickens, Victor Emmanuel or the Queen of the Sandwich Islands.  The
equipages are as varied as the company and attract as much
attention, especially the low basket barouches in which ladies drive
themselves, with a pair of dashing ponies, gay nets to keep their
voluminous flounces from overflowing the diminutive vehicles, and
little grooms on the perch behind.

Along this walk, on Christmas Day, a tall young man walked
slowly, with his hands behind him, and a somewhat absent expression
of countenance.  He looked like an Italian, was dressed like an
Englishman, and had the independent air of an American--a combination
which caused sundry pairs of feminine eyes to look approvingly
after him, and sundry dandies in black velvet suits, with
rose-colored neckties, buff gloves, and orange flowers in their
buttonholes, to shrug their shoulders, and then envy him his inches.
There were plenty of pretty faces to admire, but the young man took
little notice of them, except to glance now and then at some blonde
girl in blue.  Presently he strolled out of the promenade and
stood a moment at the crossing, as if undecided whether to go and
listen to the band in the Jardin Publique, or to wander along the
beach toward Castle Hill.  The quick trot of ponies' feet made him
look up, as one of the little carriages, containing a single
young lady, came rapidly down the street.  The lady was young,
blonde, and dressed in blue.  He stared a minute, then his whole
face woke up, and, waving his hat like a boy, he hurried forward
to meet her.

"Oh, Laurie, is it really you?  I thought you'd never come!"
cried Amy, dropping the reins and holding out both hands, to the
great scandalization of a French mamma, who hastened her daughter's
steps, lest she should be demoralized by beholding the free manners
of these 'mad English'.

"I was detained by the way, but I promised to spend Christmas
with you, and here I am."

"How is your grandfather?  When did you come?  Where are you
staying?"

"Very well--last night--at the Chauvain.  I called at your
hotel, but you were out."

"I have so much to say, I don't know where to begin!  Get
in and we can talk at our ease.  I was going for a drive and
longing for company.  Flo's saving up for tonight."

"What happens then, a ball?"

"A Christmas party at our hotel.  There are many Americans
there, and they give it in honor of the day.  You'll go with us,
of course?  Aunt will be charmed."

"Thank you.  Where now?" asked Laurie, leaning back and
folding his arms, a proceeding which suited Amy, who preferred
to drive, for her parasol whip and blue reins over the white
ponies backs afforded her infinite satisfaction.

"I'm going to the bankers first for letters, and then to
Castle Hill.  The view is so lovely, and I like to feed the peacocks.
Have you ever been there?"

"Often, years ago, but I don't mind having a look at it."

"Now tell me all about yourself.  The last I heard of you,
your grandfather wrote that he expected you from Berlin."

"Yes, I spent a month there and then joined him in Paris,
where he has settled for the winter.  He has friends there and
finds plenty to amuse him, so I go and come, and we get on capitally."

"That's a sociable arrangement," said Amy, missing something
in Laurie's manner, though she couldn't tell what.

"Why, you see, he hates to travel, and I hate to keep still,
so we each suit ourselves, and there is no trouble.  I am often
with him, and he enjoys my adventures, while I like to feel that
someone is glad to see me when I get back from my wanderings.  Dirty
old hole, isn't it?" he added, with a look of disgust as they drove
along the boulevard to the Place Napoleon in the old city.

"The dirt is picturesque, so I don't mind.  The river and the
hills are delicious, and these glimpses of the narrow cross streets
are my delight.  Now we shall have to wait for that procession to
pass.  It's going to the Church of St.  John."

While Laurie listlessly watched the procession of priests
under their canopies, white-veiled nuns bearing lighted tapers,
and some brotherhood in blue chanting as they walked, Amy watched
him, and felt a new sort of shyness steal over her, for he was
changed, and she could not find the merry-faced boy she left in
the moody-looking man beside her.  He was handsomer than ever and
greatly improved, she thought, but now that the flush of pleasure
at meeting her was over, he looked tired and spiritless--not sick,
nor exactly unhappy, but older and graver than a year or two of
prosperous life should have made him.  She couldn't understand it
and did not venture to ask questions, so she shook her head and
touched up her ponies, as the procession wound away across the
arches of the Paglioni bridge and vanished in the church.

"Que pensez-vous?" she said, airing her French, which had
improved in quantity, if not in quality, since she came abroad.

"That mademoiselle has made good use of her time, and the
result is charming," replied Laurie, bowing with his hand on
his heart and an admiring look.

She blushed with pleasure, but somehow the compliment did
not satisfy her like the blunt praises he used to give her at
home, when he promenaded round her on festival occasions, and
told her she was 'altogether jolly', with a hearty smile and an
approving pat on the head.  She didn't like the new tone, for
though not blase, it sounded indifferent in spite of the look.

"If that's the way he's going to grow up, I wish he'd stay
a boy," she thought, with a curious sense of disappointment and
discomfort, trying meantime to seem quite easy and gay.

At Avigdor's she found the precious home letters and, giving
the reins to Laurie, read them luxuriously as they wound up the
shady road between green hedges, where tea roses bloomed as freshly
as in June.

"Beth is very poorly, Mother says.  I often think I ought to
go home, but they all say 'stay'.  So I do, for I shall never have
another chance like this," said Amy, looking sober over one page.

"I think you are right, there.  You could do nothing at home,
and it is a great comfort to them to know that you are well and
happy, and enjoying so much, my dear."

He drew a little nearer, and looked more like his old self as
he said that, and the fear that sometimes weighed on Amy's heart
was lightened, for the look, the act, the brotherly 'my dear',
seemed to assure her that if any trouble did come, she would not
be alone in a strange land.  Presently she laughed and showed him
a small sketch of Jo in her scribbling suit, with the bow rampantly
erect upon her cap, and issuing from her mouth the words, 'Genius
burns!'.

Laurie smiled, took it, put it in his vest pocket 'to keep it
from blowing away', and listened with interest to the lively letter
Amy read him.

"This will be a regularly merry Christmas to me, with presents
in the morning, you and letters in the afternoon, and a party at
night," said Amy, as they alighted among the ruins of the old fort,
and a flock of splendid peacocks came trooping about them, tamely
waiting to be fed.  While Amy stood laughing on the bank above him
as she scattered crumbs to the brilliant birds, Laurie looked at her
as she had looked at him, with a natural curiosity to see what
changes time and absence had wrought.  He found nothing to perplex
or disappoint, much to admire and approve, for overlooking a few
little affectations of speech and manner, she was as sprightly and
graceful as ever, with the addition of that indescribable something
in dress and bearing which we call elegance.  Always mature for her
age, she had gained a certain aplomb in both carriage and conversation,
which made her seem more of a woman of the world than she was, but
her old petulance now and then showed itself, her strong will still
held its own, and her native frankness was unspoiled by foreign
polish.

Laurie did not read all this while he watched her feed the peacocks,
but he saw enough to satisfy and interest him, and carried
away a pretty little picture of a bright-faced girl standing in the
sunshine, which brought out the soft hue of her dress, the fresh
color of her cheeks, the golden gloss of her hair, and made her a
prominent figure in the pleasant scene.

As they came up onto the stone plateau that crowns the hill,
Amy waved her hand as if welcoming him to her favorite haunt, and
said, pointing here and there, "Do you remember the Cathedral and
the Corso, the fishermen dragging their nets in the bay, and the
lovely road to Villa Franca, Schubert's Tower, just below, and best
of all, that speck far out to sea which they say is Corsica?"

"I remember.  It's not much changed," he answered without
enthusiasm.

"What Jo would give for a sight of that famous speck!" said
Amy, feeling in good spirits and anxious to see him so also.

"Yes," was all he said, but he turned and strained his eyes to
see the island which a greater usurper than even Napoleon now made
interesting in his sight.

"Take a good look at it for her sake, and then come and tell
me what you have been doing with yourself all this while," said
Amy, seating herself, ready for a good talk.

But she did not get it, for though he joined her and answered
all her questions freely, she could only learn that he had roved
about the Continent and been to Greece.  So after idling away an
hour, they drove home again, and having paid his respects to Mrs.
Carrol, Laurie left them, promising to return in the evening.

It must be recorded of Amy that she deliberately prinked that
night.  Time and absence had done its work on both the young people.
She had seen her old friend in a new light, not as 'our boy', but as
a handsome and agreeable man, and she was conscious of a very natural
desire to find favor in his sight.  Amy knew her good points, and
made the most of them with the taste and skill which is a fortune to
a poor and pretty woman.

Tarlatan and tulle were cheap at Nice, so she enveloped herself
in them on such occasions, and following the sensible English fashion
of simple dress for young girls, got up charming little toilettes
with fresh flowers, a few trinkets, and all manner of dainty devices,
which were both inexpensive and effective.  It must be confessed
that the artist sometimes got possession of the woman, and indulged
in antique coiffures, statuesque attitudes, and classic draperies.
But, dear heart, we all have our little weaknesses, and find it
easy to pardon such in the young, who satisfy our eyes with their
comeliness, and keep our hearts merry with their artless vanities.

"I do want him to think I look well, and tell them so at home,"
said Amy to herself, as she put on Flo's old white silk ball dress,
and covered it with a cloud of fresh illusion, out of which her
white shoulders and golden head emerged with a most artistic effect.
Her hair she had the sense to let alone, after gathering up the
thick waves and curls into a Hebe-like knot at the back of her head.

"It's not the fashion, but it's becoming, and I can't afford to
make a fright of myself," she used to say, when advised to frizzle,
puff, or braid, as the latest style commanded.

Having no ornaments fine enough for this important occasion,
Amy looped her fleecy skirts with rosy clusters of azalea, and
framed the white shoulders in delicate green vines.  Remembering
the painted boots, she surveyed her white satin slippers with
girlish satisfaction, and chassed down the room, admiring her
aristocratic feet all by herself.

"My new fan just matches my flowers, my gloves fit to a charm,
and the real lace on Aunt's mouchoir gives an air to my whole dress.
If I only had a classical nose and mouth I should be perfectly happy,"
she said, surveying herself with a critical eye and a candle in
each hand.

In spite of this affliction, she looked unusually gay and
graceful as she glided away.  She seldom ran--it did not suit her
style, she thought, for being tall, the stately and Junoesque was
more appropriate than the sportive or piquante.  She walked up and
down the long saloon while waiting for Laurie, and once arranged
herself under the chandelier, which had a good effect upon her
hair, then she thought better of it, and went away to the other
end of the room, as if ashamed of the girlish desire to have the
first view a propitious one.  It so happened that she could not
have done a better thing, for Laurie came in so quietly she
did not hear him, and as she stood at the distant window, with
her head half turned and one hand gathering up her dress, the
slender, white figure against the red curtains was as effective
as a well-placed statue.

"Good evening, Diana!" said Laurie, with the look of satisfaction
she liked to see in his eyes when they rested on her.

"Good evening, Apollo!" she answered, smiling back at him,
for he too looked unusually debonair, and the thought of
entering the ballroom on the arm of such a personable man
caused Amy to pity the four plain Misses Davis from the bottom
of her heart.

"Here are your flowers.  I arranged them myself, remembering
that you didn't like what Hannah calls a 'sot-bookay'," said
Laurie, handing her a delicate nosegay, in a holder that she
had long coveted as she daily passed it in Cardiglia's window.

"How kind you are!" she exclaimed gratefully.  "If I'd
known you were coming I'd have had something ready for you today,
though not as pretty as this, I'm afraid."

"Thank you.  It isn't what it should be, but you have improved it,"
he added, as she snapped the silver bracelet on her wrist.

"Please don't."

"I thought you liked that sort of thing."

"Not from you, it doesn't sound natural, and I like your
old bluntness better."

"I'm glad of it," he answered, with a look of relief, then
buttoned her gloves for her, and asked if his tie was straight,
just as he used to do when they went to parties together at home.

The company assembled in the long salle a manger, that
evening, was such as one sees nowhere but on the Continent.  The
hospitable Americans had invited every acquaintance they had
in Nice, and having no prejudice against titles, secured a few
to add luster to their Christmas ball.

A Russian prince condescended to sit in a corner for an
hour and talk with a massive lady, dressed like Hamlet's mother
in black velvet with a pearl bridle under her chin.  A Polish
count, aged eighteen, devoted himself to the ladies, who pronounced
him, 'a fascinating dear', and a German Serene Something,
having come to supper alone, roamed vaguely about, seeking what
he might devour.  Baron Rothschild's private secretary, a large-nosed
Jew in tight boots, affably beamed upon the world, as if
his master's name crowned him with a golden halo.  A stout
Frenchman, who knew the Emperor, came to indulge his mania for
dancing, and Lady de Jones, a British matron, adorned the scene
with her little family of eight.  Of course, there were many
light-footed, shrill-voiced American girls, handsome, lifeless-looking
English ditto, and a few plain but piquante French demoiselles,
likewise the usual set of traveling young gentlemen
who disported themselves gaily, while mammas of all nations
lined the walls and smiled upon them benignly when they danced
with their daughters.

Any young girl can imagine Amy's state of mind when she
'took the stage' that night, leaning on Laurie's arm.  She
knew she looked well, she loved to dance, she felt that her
foot was on her native heath in a ballroom, and enjoyed the
delightful sense of power which comes when young girls first
discover the new and lovely kingdom they are born to rule by
virtue of beauty, youth, and womanhood.  She did pity the
Davis girls, who were awkward, plain, and destitute of escort,
except a grim papa and three grimmer maiden aunts, and she
bowed to them in her friendliest manner as she passed, which
was good of her, as it permitted them to see her dress, and
burn with curiosity to know who her distinguished-looking
friend might be.  With the first burst of the band, Amy's
color rose, her eyes began to sparkle, and her feet to tap the
floor impatiently, for she danced well and wanted Laurie to
know it.  Therefore the shock she received can better be
imagined than described, when he said in a perfectly tranquil
tone, "Do you care to dance?"

"One usually does at a ball."

Her amazed look and quick answer caused Laurie to repair
his error as fast as possible.

"I meant the first dance.  May I have the honor?"

"I can give you one if I put off the Count.  He dances
devinely, but he will excuse me, as you are an old friend," said
Amy, hoping that the name would have a good effect, and show
Laurie that she was not to be trifled with.

"Nice little boy, but rather a short Pole to support . . .

    A daughter of the gods,
    Devinely tall, and most devinely fair,"

was all the satisfaction she got, however.

The set in which they found themselves was composed of
English, and Amy was compelled to walk decorously through a
cotillion, feeling all the while as if she could dance the
tarantella with relish.  Laurie resigned her to the 'nice little
boy', and went to do his duty to Flo, without securing Amy for
the joys to come, which reprehensible want of forethought was
properly punished, for she immediately engaged herself till
supper, meaning to relent if he then gave any signs penitence.
She showed him her ball book with demure satisfaction when he
strolled instead of rushed up to claim her for the next, a
glorious polka redowa.  But his polite regrets didn't impose
upon her, and when she galloped away with the Count, she saw
Laurie sit down by her aunt with an actual expression of relief.

That was unpardonable, and Amy took no more notice of him
for a long while, except a word now and then when she came to
her chaperon between the dances for a necessary pin or a
moment's rest.  Her anger had a good effect, however, for she
hid it under a smiling face, and seemed unusually blithe and
brilliant.  Laurie's eyes followed her with pleasure, for she
neither romped nor sauntered, but danced with spirit and
grace, making the delightsome pastime what it should be.  He
very naturally fell to studying her from this new point of
view, and before the evening was half over, had decided that
'little Amy was going to make a very charming woman'.

It was a lively scene, for soon the spirit of the social
season took possession of everyone, and Christmas merriment made
all faces shine, hearts happy, and heels light.  The musicians
fiddled, tooted, and banged as if they enjoyed it, everybody
danced who could, and those who couldn't admired their
neighbors with uncommon warmth.  The air was dark with Davises,
and many Joneses gamboled like a flock of young giraffes.  The
golden secretary darted through the room like a meteor with
a dashing frenchwoman who carpeted the floor with her pink satin
train.  The serene Teuton found the supper-table and was happy,
eating steadily through the bill of fare, and dismayed the
garcons by the ravages he committed.  But the Emperor's friend
covered himself with glory, for he danced everything, whether
he knew it or not, and introduced impromptu pirouettes when the
figures bewildered him.  The boyish abandon of that stout man
was charming to behold, for though he 'carried weight', he
danced like an India-rubber ball.  He ran, he flew, he pranced,
his face glowed, his bald head shown, his coattails waved wildly,
his pumps actually twinkled in the air, and when the music
stopped, he wiped the drops from his brow, and beamed upon his
fellow men like a French Pickwick without glasses.

Amy and her Pole distinguished themselves by equal enthusiasm
but more graceful agility, and Laurie found himself
involuntarily keeping time to the rhythmic rise and fall of the
white slippers as they flew by as indefatigably as if winged.
When little Vladimir finally relinquished her, with assurances
that he was 'desolated to leave so early', she was ready to
rest, and see how her recreant knight had borne his punishment.

It had been successful, for at three-and-twenty, blighted
affections find a balm in friendly society, and young nerves
will thrill, young blood dance, and healthy young spirits rise,
when subjected to the enchantment of beauty, light, music, and
motion.  Laurie had a waked-up look as he rose to give her his
seat, and when he hurried away to bring her some supper, she
said to herself, with a satisfied smile, "Ah, I thought that
would do him good!"

"You look like Balzac's '_Femme Peinte Par Elle-Meme_',"
he said, as he fanned her with one hand and held her coffee
cup in the other.

"My rouge won't come off." and Amy rubbed her brilliant
cheek, and showed him her white glove with a sober simplicity
that made him laugh outright.

"What do you call this stuff?" he asked, touching a fold
of her dress that had blown over his knee.

"Illusion."

"Good name for it.  It's very pretty--new thing, isn't it?"

"It's as old as the hills.  You have seen it on dozens of
girls, and you never found out that it was pretty till now--
stupide!"

"I never saw it on you before, which accounts for the mistake,
you see."

"None of that, it is forbidden.  I'd rather take coffee
than compliments just now.  No, don't lounge, it makes me nervous."

Laurie sat bold upright, and meekly took her empty plate
feeling an odd sort of pleasure in having 'little Amy' order
him about, for she had lost her shyness now, and felt an
irrestible desire to trample on him, as girls have a delightful
way of doing when lords of creation show any signs of subjection.

"Where did you learn all this sort of thing?" he asked with
a quizzical look.

"As 'this sort of thing' is rather a vague expression, would
you kindly explain?" returned Amy, knowing perfectly well what he
meant, but wickedly leaving him to describe what is indescribable.

"Well--the general air, the style, the self-possession, the--
the--illusion--you know", laughed Laurie, breaking down and helping
himself out of his quandary with the new word.

Amy was gratified, but of course didn't show it, and demurely
answered, "Foreign life polishes one in spite of one's self.  I
study as well as play, and as for this"--with a little gesture
toward her dress--"why, tulle is cheap, posies to be had for
nothing, and I am used to making the most of my poor little things."

Amy rather regretted that last sentence, fearing it wasn't in
good taste, but Laurie liked her better for it, and found himself
both admiring and respecting the brave patience that made the most
of opportunity, and the cheerful spirit that covered poverty with
flowers.  Amy did not know why he looked at her so kindly, nor
why he filled up her book with his own name, and devoted himself
to her for the rest of the evening in the most delightful manner;
but the impulse that wrought this agreeable change was the result
of one of the new impressions which both of them were unconsciously
giving and receiving.



CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

ON THE SHELF

In France the young girls have a dull time of it till they are
married, when 'Vive la liberte!' becomes their motto.  In America,
as everyone knows, girls early sign the declaration of independence,
and enjoy their freedom with republican zest, but the young matrons
usually abdicate with the first heir to the throne and go into a
seclusion almost as close as a French nunnery, though by no means
as quiet.  Whether they like it or not, they are virtually put
upon the shelf as soon as the wedding excitement is over, and most
of them might exclaim, as did a very pretty woman the other day,
"I'm as handsome as ever, but no one takes any notice of me because
I'm married."

Not being a belle or even a fashionable lady, Meg did not
experience this affliction till her babies were a year old,
for in her little world primitive customs prevailed, and she
found herself more admired and beloved than ever.

As she was a womanly little woman, the maternal instinct
was very strong, and she was entirely absorbed in her children,
to the utter exclusion of everything and everybody else.  Day
and night she brooded over them with tireless devotion and
anxiety, leaving John to the tender mercies of the help, for
an Irish lady now presided over the kitchen department.  Being
a domestic man, John decidedly missed the wifely attentions he
had been accustomed to receive, but as he adored his babies, he
cheerfully relinquished his comfort for a time, supposing with
masculine ignorance that peace would soon be restored.  But
three months passed, and there was no return of repose.  Meg
looked worn and nervous, the babies absorbed every minute of
her time, the house was neglected, and Kitty, the cook, who took
life 'aisy', kept him on short commons.  When he went out in
the morning he was bewildered by small commissions for the captive
mamma, if he came gaily in at night, eager to embrace his
family, he was quenched by a "Hush!  They are just asleep after
worrying all day."  If he proposed a little amusement at home,
"No, it would disturb the babies."  If he hinted at a lecture
or a concert, he was answered with a reproachful look, and a
decided - "Leave my children for pleasure, never!"  His sleep was
broken by infant wails and visions of a phantom figure pacing
noiselessly to and fro in the watches of the night.  His meals
were interrupted by the frequent flight of the presiding genius,
who deserted him, half-helped, if a muffled chirp sounded from
the nest above.  And when he read his paper of an evening,
Demi's colic got into the shipping list and Daisy's fall affected
the price of stocks, for Mrs. Brooke was only interested in domestic 
news.

The poor man was very uncomfortable, for the children had
bereft him of his wife, home was merely a nursery and the perpetual
'hushing' made him feel like a brutal intruder whenever
he entered the sacred precincts of Babyland.  He bore it very
patiently for six months, and when no signs of amendment appeared,
he did what other paternal exiles do--tried to get a little comfort
elsewhere.  Scott had married and gone to housekeeping not
far off, and John fell into the way of running over for an hour
or two of an evening, when his own parlor was empty, and his
own wife singing lullabies that seemed to have no end.  Mrs.
Scott was a lively, pretty girl, with nothing to do but be
agreeable, and she performed her mission most successfully.  The
parlor was always bright and attractive, the chessboard ready,
the piano in tune, plenty of gay gossip, and a nice little supper
set forth in tempting style.

John would have preferred his own fireside if it had not
been so lonely, but as it was he gratefully took the next best
thing and enjoyed his neighbor's society.

Meg rather approved of the new arrangement at first, and
found it a relief to know that John was having a good time
instead of dozing in the parlor, or tramping about the house
and waking the children.  But by-and-by, when the teething
worry was over and the idols went to sleep at proper hours,
leaving Mamma time to rest, she began to miss John, and find
her workbasket dull company, when he was not sitting opposite
in his old dressing gown, comfortably scorching his slippers
on the fender.  She would not ask him to stay at home, but felt
injured because he did not know that she wanted him without
being told, entirely forgetting the many evenings he had waited
for her in vain.  She was nervous and worn out with watching
and worry, and in that unreasonable frame of mind which the best
of mothers occasionally experience when domestic cares oppress
them.  Want of exercise robs them of cheerfulness, and too much
devotion to that idol of American women, the teapot, makes them
feel as if they were all nerve and no muscle.

"Yes," she would say, looking in the glass, "I'm getting
old and ugly.  John doesn't find me interesting any longer, so
he leaves his faded wife and goes to see his pretty neighbor,
who has no incumbrances.  Well, the babies love me, they don't
care if I am thin and pale and haven't time to crimp my hair,
they are my comfort, and some day John will see what I've
gladly sacrificed for them, won't he, my precious?"

To which pathetic appeal Daisy would answer with a coo,
or Demi with a crow, and Meg would put by her lamentations for
a maternal revel, which soothed her solitude for the time being.
But the pain increased as politics absorbed John, who was always
running over to discuss interesting points with Scott, quite
unconscious that Meg missed him.  Not a word did she say, however,
till her mother found her in tears one day, and insisted
on knowing what the matter was, for Meg's drooping spirits had
not escaped her observation.

"I wouldn't tell anyone except you, Mother, but I really
do need advice, for if John goes on much longer I might as well
be widowed," replied Mrs. Brooke, drying her tears on Daisy's
bib with an injured air.

"Goes on how, my dear?" asked her mother anxiously.

"He's away all day, and at night when I want to see him,
he is continually going over to the Scotts'.  It isn't fair
that I should have the hardest work, and never any amusement.
Men are very selfish, even the best of them."

"So are women.  Don't blame John till you see where you
are wrong yourself."

"But it can't be right for him to neglect me."

"Don't you neglect him?"

"Why, Mother, I thought you'd take my part!"

"So I do, as far as sympathizing goes, but I think the fault
is yours, Meg."

"I don't see how."

"Let me show you.  Did John ever neglect you, as you call it,
while you made it a point to give him your society of an evening,
his only leisure time?"

"No, but I can't do it now, with two babies to tend."

"I think you could, dear, and I think you ought.  May I
speak quite freely, and will you remember that it's Mother who
blames as well as Mother who sympathizes?"

"Indeed I will!  Speak to me as if I were little Meg again.
I often feel as if I needed teaching more than ever since these
babies look to me for everything."

Meg drew her low chair beside her mother's, and with a little
interruption in either lap, the two women rocked and talked lovingly
together, feeling that the tie of motherhood made them more one
than ever.

"You have only made the mistake that most young wives make--forgotten
your duty to your husband in your love for your children.
A very natural and forgivable mistake, Meg, but one that
had better be remedied before you take to different ways, for
children should draw you nearer than ever, not separate you, as
if they were all yours, and John had nothing to do but support
them.  I've seen it for some weeks, but have not spoken, feeling
sure it would come right in time."

"I'm afraid it won't.  If I ask him to stay, he'll think I'm
jealous, and I wouldn't insult him by such an idea.  He doesn't
see that I want him, and I don't know how to tell him without
words."

"Make it so pleasant he won't want to go away.  My dear,
he's longing for his little home, but it isn't home without you,
and you are always in the nursery."

"Oughtn't I to be there?"

"Not all the time, too much confinement makes you nervous,
and then you are unfitted for everything.  Besides, you owe
something to John as well as to the babies.  Don't neglect husband
for children, don't shut him out of the nursery, but teach
him how to help in it.  His place is there as well as yours, and
the children need him.  Let him feel that he has a part to do, and
he will do it gladly and faithfully, and it will be better for you
all."

"You really think so, Mother?"

"I know it, Meg, for I've tried it, and I seldom give advice unless
I've proved its practicability.  When you and Jo were little, I went
on just as you are, feeling as if I didn't do my duty unless I
devoted myself wholly to you.  Poor Father took to his books, after I
had refused all offers of help, and left me to try my experiment
alone.  I struggled along as well as I could, but Jo was too much for
me.  I nearly spoiled her by indulgence.  You were poorly, and I
worried about you till I fell sick myself.  Then Father came to the
rescue, quietly managed everything, and made himself so helpful that
I saw my mistake, and never have been able to got on without him
since.  That is the secret of our home happiness.  He does not let
business wean him from the little cares and duties that affect us
all, and I try not to let domestic worries destroy my interest in
his pursuits.  Each do our part alone in many things, but at home we
work together, always."

"It is so, Mother, and my great wish is to be to my husband
and children what you have been to yours.  Show me how, I'll do
anything you say."

"You always were my docile daughter.  Well, dear, if I were
you, I'd let John have more to do with the management of Demi,
for the boy needs training, and it's none too soon to begin.
Then I'd do what I have often proposed, let Hannah come and
help you.  She is a capital nurse, and you may trust the precious
babies to her while you do more housework.  You need the exercise,
Hannah would enjoy the rest, and John would find his wife again.
Go out more, keep cheerful as well as busy, for you are the
sunshine-maker of the family, and if you get dismal there is no
fair weather.  Then I'd try to take an interest in whatever John
likes--talk with him, let him read to you, exchange ideas, and
help each other in that way.  Don't shut yourself up in a bandbox
because you are a woman, but understand what is going on, and
educate yourself to take your part in the world's work, for it
all affects you and yours."

"John is so sensible, I'm afraid he will think I'm stupid if
I ask questions about politics and things."

"I don't believe he would.  Love covers a multitude of sins,
and of whom could you ask more freely than of him?  Try it, and
see if he doesn't find your society far more agreeable than Mrs.
Scott's suppers."

"I will.  Poor John!  I'm afraid I have neglected him sadly,
but I thought I was right, and he never said anything."

"He tried not to be selfish, but he has felt rather forlorn,
I fancy.  This is just the time, Meg, when young married people
are apt to grow apart, and the very time when they ought to be
most together, for the first tenderness soon wears off, unless
care is taken to preserve it.  And no time is so beautiful and
precious to parents as the first years of the little lives
given to them to train.  Don't let John be a stranger to the
babies, for they will do more to keep him safe and happy in
this world of trial and temptation than anything else, and
through them you will learn to know and love one another as
you should.  Now, dear, good-by.  Think over Mother's preachment,
act upon it if it seems good, and God bless you all."

Meg did think it over, found it good, and acted upon it,
though the first attempt was not made exactly as she planned
to have it.  Of course the children tyrannized over her, and
ruled the house as soon as they found out that kicking and
squalling brought them whatever they wanted.  Mamma was an
abject slave to their caprices, but Papa was not so easily
subjugated, and occasionally afflicted his tender spouse by
an attempt at paternal discipline with his obstreperous son.
For Demi inherited a trifle of his sire's firmness of character,
we won't call it obstinacy, and when he made up his 
little mind to have or to do anything, all the king's horses and
all the king's men could not change that pertinacious little
mind.  Mamma thought the dear too young to be taught to conquer
his prejudices, but Papa believed that it never was too
soon to learn obedience.  So Master Demi early discovered that
when he undertook to 'wrastle' with 'Parpar', he always got
the worst of it, yet like the Englishman, baby respected the
man who conquered him, and loved the father whose grave "No,
no," was more impressive than all Mamma's love pats.

A few days after the talk with her mother, Meg resolved
to try a social evening with John, so she ordered a nice
supper, set the parlor in order, dressed herself prettily, and
put the children to bed early, that nothing should interfere
with her experiment.  But unfortunately Demi's most unconquerable
prejudice was against going to bed, and that night he decided
to go on a rampage.  So poor Meg sang and rocked,
told stories and tried every sleep-prevoking wile she could
devise, but all in vain, the big eyes wouldn't shut, and long
after Daisy had gone to byelow, like the chubby little bunch
of good nature she was, naughty Demi lay staring at the light,
with the most discouragingly wide-awake expression of countenance.

"Will Demi lie still like a good boy, while Mamma runs
down and gives poor Papa his tea?" asked Meg, as the hall
door softly closed, and the well-known step went tip-toeing
into the dining room.

"Me has tea!" said Demi, preparing to join in the revel.

"No, but I'll save you some little cakies for breakfast,
if you'll go bye-bye like Daisy.  Will you, lovey?"

"Iss!" and Demi shut his eyes tight, as if to catch sleep
and hurry the desired day.

Taking advantage of the propitious moment, Meg slipped
away and ran down to greet her husband with a smiling face
and the little blue bow in her hair which was his especial
admiration.  He saw it at once and said with pleased surprise,
"Why, little mother, how gay we are tonight.  Do you expect
company?"

"Only you, dear."

"Is it a birthday, anniversary, or anything?"

"No, I'm tired of being dowdy, so I dressed up as a
change.  You always make yourself nice for table, no matter
how tired you are, so why shouldn't I when I have the time?"

"I do it out of respect for you, my dear," said old-fashioned John.

"Ditto, ditto, Mr. Brooke," laughed Meg, looking young
and pretty again, as she nodded to him over the teapot.

"Well, it's altogether delightful, and like old times.  This tastes
right.  I drink your health, dear." and John sipped his tea with an
air of reposeful rapture, which was of very short duration however,
for as he put down his cup, the door handle rattled mysteriously,
and a little voice was heard, saying impatiently . . .

"Opy doy.  Me's tummin!"

"It's that naughty boy.  I told him to go to sleep alone,
and here he is, downstairs, getting his death a-cold pattering
over that canvas," said Meg, answering the call.

"Mornin' now," announced Demi in joyful tone as he entered,
with his long nightgown gracefully festooned over his arm and
every curl bobbing gayly as he pranced about the table, eyeing
the 'cakies' with loving glances.

"No, it isn't morning yet.  You must go to bed, and not
trouble poor Mamma.  Then you can have the little cake with
sugar on it."

"Me loves Parpar," said the artful one, preparing to climb
the paternal knee and revel in forbidden joys.  But John shook
his head, and said to Meg . . .

"If you told him to stay up there, and go to sleep alone,
make him do it, or he will never learn to mind you."

"Yes, of course.  Come, Demi,"  and Meg led her son away,
feeling a strong desire to spank the little marplot who hopped
beside her, laboring under the delusion that the bribe was to
be administered as soon as they reached the nursery.

Nor was he disappointed, for that shortsighted woman
actually gave him a lump of sugar, tucked him into his bed,
and forbade any more promenades till morning.

"Iss!" said Demi the perjured, blissfully sucking his sugar,
and regarding his first attempt as eminently successful.

Meg returned to her place, and supper was progressing
pleasantly, when the little ghost walked again, and exposed
the maternal delinquencies by boldly demanding, "More sudar,
Marmar."

"Now this won't do," said John, hardening his heart against
the engaging little sinner.  "We shall never know any peace till
that child learns to go to bed properly.  You have made a slave of
yourself long enough.  Give him one lesson, and then there will
be an end of it.  Put him in his bed and leave him, Meg."

"He won't stay there, he never does unless I sit by him."

"I'll manage him.  Demi, go upstairs, and get into your bed,
as Mamma bids you."

"S'ant!" replied the young rebel, helping himself to the
coveted 'cakie', and beginning to eat the same with calm audacity.

"You must never say that to Papa.  I shall carry you if you
don't go yourself."

"Go 'way, me don't love Parpar." and Demi retired to his
mother's skirts for protection.

But even that refuge proved unavailing, for he was delivered
over to the enemy, with a "Be gentle with him, John,"
which struck the culprit with dismay, for when Mamma deserted
him, then the judgment day was at hand.  Bereft of his cake,
defrauded of his frolic, and borne away by a strong hand to
that detested bed, poor Demi could not restrain his wrath, but
openly defied Papa, and kicked and screamed lustily all the
way upstairs.  The minute he was put into bed on one side, he
rolled out on the other, and made for the door, only to be
ignominiously caught up by the tail of his little toga and
put back again, which lively performance was kept up till the
young man's strength gave out, when he devoted himself to
roaring at the top of his voice.  This vocal exercise usually
conquered Meg, but John sat as unmoved as the post which is
popularly believed to be deaf.  No coaxing, no sugar, no
lullaby, no story, even the light was put out and only the
red glow of the fire enlivened the 'big dark' which Demi
regarded with curiosity rather than fear.  This new order
of things disgusted him, and he howled dismally for 'Marmar',
as his angry passions subsided, and recollections of his
tender bondwoman returned to the captive autocrat.  The
plaintive wail which succeeded the passionate roar went to
Meg's heart, and she ran up to say beseechingly . . .

"Let me stay with him, he'll be good now, John."

"No, my dear.  I've told him he must go to sleep, as you
bid him, and he must, if I stay here all night."

"But he'll cry himself sick," pleaded Meg, reproaching herself
for deserting her boy.

"No, he won't, he's so tired he will soon drop off and then
the matter is settled, for he will understand that he has got to
mind.  Don't interfere, I'll manage him."

"He's my child, and I can't have his spirit broken by harshness."

"He's my child, and I won't have his temper spoiled by
indulgence.  Go down, my dear, and leave the boy to me."

When John spoke in that masterful tone, Meg always obeyed,
and never regretted her docility.

"Please let me kiss him once, John?"

"Certainly.  Demi, say good night to Mamma, and let her go and rest,
for she is very tired with taking care of you all day."

Meg always insisted upon it that the kiss won the victory,
for after it was given, Demi sobbed more quietly, and lay quite
still at the bottom of the bed, whither he had wriggled in his
anguish of mind.

"Poor little man, he's worn out with sleep and crying.  I'll
cover him up, and then go and set Meg's heart at rest," thought
John, creeping to the bedside, hoping to find his rebellious
heir asleep.

But he wasn't, for the moment his father peeped at him,
Demi's eyes opened, his little chin began to quiver, and he put
up his arms, saying with a penitent hiccough, "Me's dood, now."

Sitting on the stairs outside Meg wondered at the long
silence which followed the uproar, and after imagining all
sorts of impossible accidents, she slipped into the room to
set her fears at rest.  Demi lay fast asleep, not in his usual
spreadeagle attitude, but in a subdued bunch, cuddled close in
the circle of his father's arm and holding his father's finger,
as if he felt that justice was tempered with mercy, and had
gone to sleep a sadder and wiser baby.  So held, John had waited
with a womanly patience till the little hand relaxed its hold,
and while waiting had fallen asleep, more tired by that tussle
with his son than with his whole day's work.

As Meg stood watching the two faces on the pillow, she
smiled to herself, and then slipped away again, saying in a
satisfied tone, "I never need fear that John will be too harsh
with my babies.  He does know how to manage them, and will be
a great help, for Demi is getting too much for me."

When John came down at last, expecting to find a pensive
or reproachful wife, he was agreeably surprised to find Meg
placidly trimming a bonnet, and to be greeted with the request
to read something about the election, if he was not
too tired.  John saw in a minute that a revolution of some
kind was going on, but wisely asked no questions, knowing
that Meg was such a transparent little person, she couldn't
keep a secret to save her life, and therefore the clue would
soon appear.  He read a long debate with the most amiable
readiness and then explained it in his most lucid manner,
while Meg tried to look deeply interested, to ask intelligent
questions, and keep her thoughts from wandering from the
state of the nation to the state of her bonnet.  In her secret
soul, however, she decided that politics were as bad as mathematics,
and that the mission of politicians seemed to be calling
each other names, but she kept these feminine ideas to herself,
and when John paused, shook her head and said with what she
thought diplomatic ambiguity, "Well, I really don't see what
we are coming to."

John laughed, and watched her for a minute, as she poised
a pretty little preparation of lace and flowers on her hand,
and regarded it with the genuine interest which his harangue
had failed to waken.

"She is trying to like politics for my sake, so I'll try and like
millinery for hers, that's only fair," thought John the Just, adding
aloud, "That's very pretty.  Is it what you call a breakfast cap?"

"My dear man, it's a bonnet!   My very best go-to-concert-and-theater
bonnet."

"I beg your pardon, it was so small, I naturally mistook
it for one of the flyaway things you sometimes wear.
How do you keep it on?"

"These bits of lace are fastened under the chin with a rosebud, so,"
and Meg illustrated by putting on the bonnet and regarding
him with an air of calm satisfaction that was irresistible.

"It's a love of a bonnet, but I prefer the face inside, for
it looks young and happy again," and John kissed the smiling
face, to the great detriment of the rosebud under the chin.

"I'm glad you like it, for I want you to take me to one
of the new concerts some night.  I really need some music to
put me in tune.  Will you, please?"

"Of course I will, with all my heart, or anywhere else you
like.  You have been shut up so long, it will do you no end of
good, and I shall enjoy it, of all things.  What put it into
your head, little mother?"

"Well, I had a talk with Marmee the other day, and told
her how nervous and cross and out of sorts I felt, and she
said I needed change and less care, so Hannah is to help me
with the children, and I'm to see to things about the house more,
and now and then have a little fun, just to keep me from getting
to be a fidgety, broken-down old woman before my time.  It's
only an experiment, John, and I want to try it for your sake
as much as for mine, because I've neglected you shamefully
lately, and I'm going to make home what it used to be, if I
can.  You don't object, I hope?"

Never mind what John said, or what a very narrow escape
the little bonnet had from utter ruin.  All that we have any
business to know is that John did not appear to object, judging
from the changes which gradually took place in the house
and its inmates.  It was not all Paradise by any means, but
everyone was better for the division of labor system.  The
children throve under the paternal rule, for accurate, stedfast
John brought order and obedience into Babydom, while Meg
recovered her spirits and composed her nerves by plenty of
wholesome exercise, a little pleasure, and much confidential
conversation with her sensible husband.  Home grew homelike
again, and John had no wish to leave it, unless he took Meg
with him.  The Scotts came to the Brookes' now, and everyone
found the little house a cheerful place, full of happiness,
content, and family love.  Even Sallie Moffatt liked to go
there.  "It is always so quiet and pleasant here, it does me
good, Meg," she used to say, looking about her with wistful
eyes, as if trying to discover the charm, that she might use
it in her great house, full of splendid loneliness, for there
were no riotous, sunny-faced babies there, and Ned lived in
a world of his own, where there was no place for her.

This household happiness did not come all at once, but
John and Meg had found the key to it, and each year of married
life taught them how to use it, unlocking the treasuries
of real home love and mutual helpfulness, which the poorest
may possess, and the richest cannot buy.  This is the sort
of shelf on which young wives and mothers may consent to be
laid, safe from the restless fret and fever of the world,
finding loyal lovers in the little sons and daughters who
cling to them, undaunted by sorrow, poverty, or age, walking
side by side, through fair and stormy weather, with a faithful
friend, who is, in the true sense of the good old Saxon word,
the 'house-band', and learning, as Meg learned, that a woman's
happiest kingdom is home, her highest honor the art of ruling
it not as a queen, but as a wise wife and mother.



CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

LAZY LAURENCE

Laurie went to Nice intending to stay a week, and remained
a month.  He was tired of wandering about alone, and Amy's
familiar presence seemed to give a homelike charm to the
foreign scenes in which she bore a part.  He rather missed the
'petting' he used to receive, and enjoyed a taste of it again,
for no attentions, however flattering, from strangers, were half
so pleasant as the sisterly adoration of the girls at home.  Amy
never would pet him like the others, but she was very glad to
see him now, and quite clung to him, feeling that he was the
representative of the dear family for whom she longed more
than she would confess.  They naturally took comfort in each
other's society and were much together, riding, walking, dancing,
or dawdling, for at Nice no one can be very industrious during
the gay season.  But, while apparently amusing themselves in
the most careless fashion, they were half-consciously making
discoveries and forming opinions about each other.  Amy rose
daily in the estimation of her friend, but he sank in hers,
and each felt the truth before a word was spoken.  Amy tried
to please, and succeeded, for she was grateful for the many
pleasures he gave her, and repaid him with the little services
to which womanly women know how to lend an indescribable
charm.  Laurie made no effort of any kind, but just let
himself drift along as comfortably as possible, trying to
forget, and feeling that all women owed him a kind word because
one had been cold to him.  It cost him no effort to be
generous, and he would have given Amy all the trinkets in
Nice if she would have taken them, but at the same time he
felt that he could not change the opinion she was forming of
him, and he rather dreaded the keen blue eyes that seemed to
watch him with such half-sorrowful, half-scornful surprise.

"All the rest have gone to Monaco for the day.  I preferred
to stay at home and write letters.  They are done now,
and I am going to Valrosa to sketch, will you come?" said Amy,
as she joined Laurie one lovely day when he lounged in as usual,
about noon.

"Well, yes, but isn't it rather warm for such a long walk?"
he answered slowly, for the shaded salon looked inviting after
the glare without.

"I'm going to have the little carriage, and Baptiste can
drive, so you'll have nothing to do but hold your umbrella,
and keep your gloves nice," returned Amy, with a sarcastic
glance at the immaculate kids, which were a weak point with
Laurie.

"Then I'll go with pleasure." and he put out his hand for
her sketchbook.  But she tucked it under her arm with a sharp . . .

"Don't trouble yourself.  It's no exertion to me, but you
don't look equal to it."

Laurie lifted his eyebrows and followed at a leisurely pace
as she ran downstairs, but when they got into the carriage he took
the reins himself, and left little Baptiste nothing to do but fold
his arms and fall asleep on his perch.

The two never quarreled.  Amy was too well-bred, and just now
Laurie was too lazy, so in a minute he peeped under her hatbrim
with an inquiring air.  She answered him with a smile, and they
went on together in the most amicable manner.

It was a lovely drive, along winding roads rich in the picturesque
scenes that delight beauty-loving eyes.  Here an ancient
monastery, whence the solemn chanting of the monks came down to
them.  There a bare-legged shepherd, in wooden shoes, pointed hat,
and rough jacket over one shoulder, sat piping on a stone while
his goats skipped among the rocks or lay at his feet.  Meek,
mouse-colored donkeys, laden with panniers of freshly cut grass
passed by, with a pretty girl in a capaline sitting between the
green piles, or an old woman spinning with a distaff as she went.
Brown, soft-eyed children ran out from the quaint stone hovels
to offer nosegays, or bunches of oranges still on the bough.
Gnarled olive trees covered the hills with their dusky foliage,
fruit hung golden in the orchard, and great scarlet anemones
fringed the roadside, while beyond green slopes and craggy heights,
the Maritime Alps rose sharp and white against the blue Italian sky.

Valrosa well deserved its name, for in that climate of perpetual
summer roses blossomed everywhere.  They overhung the
archway, thrust themselves between the bars of the great gate
with a sweet welcome to passers-by, and lined the avenue, winding
through lemon trees and feathery palms up to the villa on the hill.
Every shadowy nook, where seats invited one to stop and rest, was
a mass of bloom, every cool grotto had its marble nymph smiling
from a veil of flowers and every fountain reflected crimson, white,
or pale pink roses, leaning down to smile at their own beauty.
Roses covered the walls of the house, draped the cornices, climbed
the pillars, and ran riot over the balustrade of the wide terrace,
whence one looked down on the sunny Mediterranean, and the white-walled
city on its shore.

"This is a regular honeymoon paradise, isn't it?  Did you
ever see such roses?" asked Amy, pausing on the terrace to enjoy
the view, and a luxurious whiff of perfume that came wandering by.

"No, nor felt such thorns," returned Laurie, with his thumb
in his mouth, after a vain attempt to capture a solitary scarlet
flower that grew just beyond his reach.

"Try lower down, and pick those that have no thorns," said
Amy, gathering three of the tiny cream-colored ones that starred
the wall behind her.  She put them in his buttonhole as a peace
offering, and he stood a minute looking down at them with a
curious expression, for in the Italian part of his nature there
was a touch of superstition, and he was just then in that state
of half-sweet, half-bitter melancholy, when imaginative young
men find significance in trifles and food for romance everywhere.
He had thought of Jo in reaching after the thorny red rose, for
vivid flowers became her, and she had often worn ones like that
from the greenhouse at home.  The pale roses Amy gave him were
the sort that the Italians lay in dead hands, never in bridal
wreaths, and for a moment he wondered if the omen was for Jo or
for himself, but the next instant his American common sense got
the better of sentimentality, and he laughed a heartier laugh
than Amy had heard since he came.

"It's good advice, you'd better take it and save your fingers,"
she said, thinking her speech amused him.

"Thank you, I will," he answered in jest, and a few months
later he did it in earnest.

"Laurie, when are you going to your grandfather?" she asked
presently, as she settled herself on a rustic seat.

"Very soon."

"You have said that a dozen times within the last three
weeks."

"I dare say, short answers save trouble."

"He expects you, and you really ought to go."

"Hospitable creature!  I know it."

"Then why don't you do it?"

"Natural depravity, I suppose."

"Natural indolence, you mean.  It's really dreadful!"
and Amy looked severe.

"Not so bad as it seems, for I should only plague him if I went, so I
might as well stay and plague you a little longer, you can bear it
better, in fact I think it agrees with you excellently," and Laurie
composed himself for a lounge on the broad ledge of the balustrade.

Amy shook her head and opened her sketchbook with an
air of resignation, but she had made up her mind to lecture
'that boy' and in a minute she began again.

"What are you doing just now?"

"Watching lizards."

"No, no.  I mean what do you intend and wish to do?"

"Smoke a cigarette, if you'll allow me."

"How provoking you are!  I don't approve of cigars and I will only allow
it on condition that you let me put you into my sketch.  I need a 
figure."

"With all the pleasure in life.  How will you have me, full
length or three-quarters, on my head or my heels?  I should
respectfully suggest a recumbent posture, then put yourself
in also and call it 'Dolce far niente'."

"Stay as you are, and go to sleep if you like.  I intend to
work hard," said Amy in her most energetic tone.

"What delightful enthusiasm!" and he leaned against a tall
urn with an air of entire satisfaction.

"What would Jo say if she saw you now?" asked Amy impatiently,
hoping to stir him up by the mention of her still more
energetic sister's name.

"As usual, 'Go away, Teddy.  I'm busy!'" He laughed as he
spoke, but the laugh was not natural, and a shade passed over
his face, for the utterance of the familiar name touched the
wound that was not healed yet.  Both tone and shadow struck Amy,
for she had seen and heard them before, and now she looked up
in time to catch a new expression on Laurie's face--a hard bitter
look, full of pain, dissatisfaction, and regret.  It was gone before
she could study it and the listless expression back again.
She watched him for a moment with artistic pleasure, thinking
how like an Italian he looked, as he lay basking in the sun
with uncovered head and eyes full of southern dreaminess, for
he seemed to have forgotten her and fallen into a reverie.

"You look like the effigy of a young knight asleep on his
tomb," she said, carefully tracing the well-cut profile defined
against the dark stone.

"Wish I was!"

"That's a foolish wish, unless you have spoiled your life.
You are so changed, I sometimes think--" there Amy stopped,
with a half-timid, half-wistful look, more significant than her
unfinished speech.

Laurie saw and understood the affectionate anxiety which
she hesitated to express, and looking straight into her eyes,
said, just as he used to say it to her mother, "It's all right, ma'am."

That satisfied her and set at rest the doubts that had begun
to worry her lately.  It also touched her, and she showed
that it did, by the cordial tone in which she said . . .

"I'm glad of that!  I didn't think you'd been a very bad
boy, but I fancied you might have wasted money at that wicked
Baden-Baden, lost your heart to some charming Frenchwoman
with a husband, or got into some of the scrapes that young men
seem to consider a necessary part of a foreign tour.  Don't
stay out there in the sun, come and lie on the grass here and
'let us be friendly', as Jo used to say when we got in the sofa
corner and told secrets."

Laurie obediently threw himself down on the turf, and
began to amuse himself by sticking daisies into the ribbons of
Amy's hat, that lay there.

"I'm all ready for the secrets." and he glanced up with
a decided expression of interest in his eyes.

"I've none to tell.  You may begin."

"Haven't one to bless myself with.  I thought perhaps you'd
had some news from home.."

"You have heard all that has come lately.  Don't you hear
often?  I fancied Jo would send you volumes."

"She's very busy.  I'm roving about so, it's impossible to
be regular, you know.  When do you begin your great work of art,
Raphaella?" he asked, changing the subject abruptly after
another pause, in which he had been wondering if Amy knew his
secret and wanted to talk about it.

"Never," she answered, with a despondent but decided air.
"Rome took all the vanity out of me, for after seeing the
wonders there, I felt too insignificant to live and gave up
all my foolish hopes in despair."

"Why should you, with so much energy and talent?"

"That's just why, because talent isn't genius, and no
amount of energy can make it so.  I want to be great, or nothing.
I won't be a common-place dauber, so I don't intend to try any more."

"And what are you going to do with yourself now, if I may ask?"

"Polish up my other talents, and be an ornament to society,
if I get the chance."

It was a characteristic speech, and sounded daring, but
audacity becomes young people, and Amy's ambition had a good
foundation.  Laurie smiled, but he liked the spirit with
which she took up a new purpose when a long-cherished one
died, and spent no time lamenting.

"Good!  And here is where Fred Vaughn comes in, I fancy."

Amy preserved a discreet silence, but there was a conscious
look in her downcast face that made Laurie sit up and say gravely,
"Now I'm going to play brother, and ask questions.  May I?"

"I don't promise to answer."

"Your face will, if your tongue won't.  You aren't woman of
the world enough yet to hide your feelings, my dear.  I heard
rumors about Fred and you last year, and it's my private opinion
that if he had not been called home so suddenly and detained
so long, something would have come of it, hey?"

"That's not for me to say," was Amy's grim reply, but her lips
would smile, and there was a traitorous sparkle of the eye
which betrayed that she knew her power and enjoyed the knowledge.

"You are not engaged, I hope?" and Laurie looked very
elder-brotherly and grave all of a sudden.

"No."

"But you will be, if he comes back and goes properly down
on his knees, won't you?"

"Very likely."

"Then you are fond of old Fred?"

"I could be, if I tried."

"But you don't intend to try till the proper moment? Bless
my soul, what unearthly prudence!  He's a good fellow, Amy, but
not the man I fancied you'd like."

"He is rich, a gentleman, and has delightful manners,"
began Amy, trying to be quite cool and dignified, but feeling
a little ashamed of herself, in spite of the sincerity of her
intentions.

"I understand.  Queens of society can't get on without money,
so you mean to make a good match, and start in that way?  Quite
right and proper, as the world goes, but it sounds odd from the
lips of one of your mother's girls."

"True, nevertheless."

A short speech, but the quiet decision with which it was
uttered contrasted curiously with the young speaker.  Laurie
felt this instinctively and laid himself down again, with a
sense of disappointment which he could not explain.  His look
and silence, as well as a certain inward self-disapproval,
ruffled Amy, and made her resolve to deliver her lecture
without delay.

"I wish you'd do me the favor to rouse yourself a little,"
she said sharply.

"Do it for me, there's a dear girl."

"I could, if I tried." and she looked as if she would like
doing it in the most summary style.

"Try, then.  I give you leave," returned Laurie, who enjoyed
having someone to tease, after his long abstinence from
his favorite pastime.

"You'd be angry in five minutes."

"I'm never angry with you.  It takes two flints to make a fire.
You are as cool and soft as snow."

"You don't know what I can do.  Snow produces a glow and a tingle,
if applied rightly.  Your indifference is half affectation,
and a good stirring up would prove it."

"Stir away, it won't hurt me and it may amuse you, as the
big man said when his little wife beat him.  Regard me in the
light of a husband or a carpet, and beat till you are tired,
if that sort of exercise agrees with you."

Being decidedly nettled herself, and longing to see him
shake off the apathy that so altered him, Amy sharpened both
tongue and pencil, and began.

"Flo and I have got a new name for you.  It's Lazy Laurence.
How do you like it?"

She thought it would annoy him, but he only folded his
arms under his head, with an imperturbable, "That's not bad.
Thank you, ladies."

"Do you want to know what I honestly think of you?"

"Pining to be told."

"Well, I despise you."

If she had even said 'I hate you' in a petulant or coquettish
tone, he would have laughed and rather liked it, but
the grave, almost sad, accent in her voice made him open his
eyes, and ask quickly . . .

"Why, if you please?"

"Because, with every chance for being good, useful, and
happy, you are faulty, lazy, and miserable."

"Strong language, mademoiselle."

"If you like it, I'll go on."

"Pray do, it's quite interesting."

"I thought you'd find it so.  Selfish people always like to
talk about themselves."

"Am I selfish?" the question slipped out involuntarily and
in a tone of surprise, for the one virtue on which he prided
himself was generosity.

"Yes, very selfish," continued Amy, in a calm, cool voice,
twice as effective just then as an angry one.  "I'll show you
how, for I've studied you while we were frolicking, and I'm
not at all satisfied with you.  Here you have been abroad
nearly six months, and done nothing but waste time and money
and disappoint your friends."

"Isn't a fellow to have any pleasure after a four-year
grind?"

"You don't look as if you'd had much.  At any rate, you are
none the better for it, as far as I can see.  I said when we
first met that you had improved.  Now I take it all back, for I
don't think you half so nice as when I left you at home.  You
have grown abominably lazy, you like gossip, and waste time on
frivolous things, you are contented to be petted and admired
by silly people, instead of being loved and respected by wise
ones.  With money, talent, position, health, and beauty, ah
you like that old Vanity!  But it's the truth, so I can't help
saying it, with all these splendid things to use and enjoy, you
can find nothing to do but dawdle, and instead of being the man
you ought to be, you are only . . ."  there she stopped, with
a look that had both pain and pity in it.

"Saint Laurence on a gridiron," added Laurie, blandly
finishing the sentence.  But the lecture began to take effect,
for there was a wide-awake sparkle in his eyes now and a
half-angry, half-injured expression replaced the former indifference.

"I supposed you'd take it so.  You men tell us we are
angels, and say we can make you what we will, but the instant
we honestly try to do you good, you laugh at us and won't
listen, which proves how much your flattery is worth." Amy
spoke bitterly, and turned her back on the exasperating
martyr at her feet.

In a minute a hand came down over the page, so that she
could not draw, and Laurie's voice said, with a droll imitation
of a penitent child, "I will be good, oh, I will be good!"

But Amy did not laugh, for she was in earnest, and tapping
on the outspread hand with her pencil, said soberly, "Aren't
you ashamed of a hand like that?  It's as soft and white as a
woman's, and looks as if it never did anything but wear Jouvin's
best gloves and pick flowers for ladies.  You are not a dandy,
thank Heaven, so I'm glad to see there are no diamonds or big
seal rings on it, only the little old one Jo gave you so long
ago.  Dear soul, I wish she was here to help me!"

"So do I!"

The hand vanished as suddenly as it came, and there was
energy enough in the echo of her wish to suit even Amy.  She
glanced down at him with a new thought in her mind, but he
was lying with his hat half over his face, as if for shade, and
his mustache hid his mouth.  She only saw his chest rise and
fall, with a long breath that might have been a sigh, and the
hand that wore the ring nestled down into the grass, as if to
hide something too precious or too tender to be spoken of.
All in a minute various hints and trifles assumed shape and
significance in Amy's mind, and told her what her sister never
had confided to her.  She remembered that Laurie never spoke
voluntarily of Jo, she recalled the shadow on his face just
now, the change in his character, and the wearing of the little
old ring which was no ornament to a handsome hand.  Girls are
quick to read such signs and feel their eloquence.  Amy had
fancied that perhaps a love trouble was at the bottom of the
alteration, and now she was sure of it.  Her keen eyes filled,
and when she spoke again, it was in a voice that could be
beautifully soft and kind when she chose to make it so.

"I know I have no right to talk so to you, Laurie, and if
you weren't the sweetest-tempered fellow in the world, you'd be
very angry with me.  But we are all so fond and proud of you,
I couldn't bear to think they should be disappointed in you at
home as I have been, though, perhaps they would understand
the change better than I do."

"I think they would," came from under the hat, in a grim
tone, quite as touching as a broken one.

"They ought to have told me, and not let me go blundering
and scolding, when I should have been more kind and patient
than ever.  I never did like that Miss Randal and now I hate
her!" said artful Amy, wishing to be sure of her facts this time.

"Hang Miss Randal!" and Laurie knocked the hat off his
face with a look that left no doubt of his sentiments toward
that young lady.

"I beg pardon, I thought . . ." and there she paused
diplomatically.

"No, you didn't, you knew perfectly well I never cared for
anyone but Jo," Laurie said that in his old, impetuous tone,
and turned his face away as he spoke.

"I did think so, but as they never said anything about it,
and you came away, I supposed I was mistaken.  And Jo wouldn't
be kind to you?  Why, I was sure she loved you dearly."

"She was kind, but not in the right way, and it's lucky for
her she didn't love me, if I'm the good-for-nothing fellow you
think me.  It's her fault though, and you may tell her so."

The hard, bitter look came back again as he said that, and
it troubled Amy, for she did not know what balm to apply.

"I was wrong, I didn't know.  I'm very sorry I was so cross,
but I can't help wishing you'd bear it better, Teddy, dear."

"Don't, that's her name for me!" and Laurie put up his
hand with a quick gesture to stop the words spoken in Jo's
half-kind, half-reproachful tone.  "Wait till you've tried it
yourself," he added in a low voice, as he pulled up the grass
by the handful.

"I'd take it manfully, and be respected if I couldn't be
loved," said Amy, with the decision of one who knew nothing
about it.

Now, Laurie flattered himself that he had borne it remarkably
well, making no moan, asking no sympathy, and taking his
trouble away to live it down alone.  Amy's lecture put the
matter in a new light, and for the first time it did look
weak and selfish to lose heart at the first failure, and shut
himself up in moody indifference.  He felt as if suddenly
shaken out of a pensive dream and found it impossible to go
to sleep again.  Presently he sat up and asked slowly, "Do
you think Jo would despise me as you do?"

"Yes, if she saw you now.  She hates lazy people.  Why don't
you do something splendid, and make her love you?"

"I did my best, but it was no use."

"Graduating well, you mean?  That was no more than you
ought to have done, for your grandfather's sake.  It would
have been shameful to fail after spending so much time and
money, when everyone knew that you could do well."

"I did fail, say what you will, for Jo wouldn't love me,"
began Laurie, leaning his head on his hand in a despondent
attitude.

"No, you didn't, and you'll say so in the end, for it did
you good, and proved that you could do something if you tried.
If you'd only set about another task of some sort, you'd soon
be your hearty, happy self again, and forget your trouble."

"That's impossible."

"Try it and see.  You needn't shrug your shoulders, and
think, 'Much she knows about such things'.  I don't pretend
to be wise, but I am observing, and I see a great deal more
than you'd imagine.  I'm interested in other people's experiences
and inconsistencies, and though I can't explain, I remember
and use them for my own benefit.  Love Jo all your days,
if you choose, but don't let it spoil you, for it's wicked
to throw away so many good gifts because you can't have the
one you want.  There, I won't lecture any more, for I know
you'll wake up and be a man in spite of that hardhearted girl."

Neither spoke for several minutes.  Laurie sat turning
the little ring on his finger, and Amy put the last touches to
the hasty sketch she had been working at while she talked.
Presently she put it on his knee, merely saying, "How do you
like that?"

He looked and then he smiled, as he could not well help
doing, for it was capitally done, the long, lazy figure on the
grass, with listless face, half-shut eyes, and one hand holding
a cigar, from which came the little wreath of smoke that encircled
the dreamer's head.

"How well you draw!" he said, with a genuine surprise
and pleasure at her skill, adding, with a half-laugh,
"Yes, that's me."

"As you are.  This is as you were." and Amy laid another
sketch beside the one he held.

It was not nearly so well done, but there was a life and
spirit in it which atoned for many faults, and it recalled the
past so vividly that a sudden change swept over the young
man's face as he looked.  Only a rough sketch of Laurie taming
a horse.  Hat and coat were off, and every line of the active
figure, resolute face, and commanding attitude was full of
energy and meaning.  The handsome brute, just subdued, stood
arching his neck under the tightly drawn rein, with one foot
impatiently pawing the ground, and ears pricked up as if
listening for the voice that had mastered him.  In the ruffled
mane, the rider's breezy hair and erect attitude, there was a
suggestion of suddenly arrested motion, of strength, courage,
and youthful buoyancy that contrasted sharply with the supine
grace of the '_Dolce far Niente_' sketch.  Laurie said nothing
but as his eye went from one to the other, Amy saw him flush
up and fold his lips together as if he read and accepted the
little lesson she had given him.  That satisfied her, and
without waiting for him to speak, she said, in her sprightly
way . . .

"Don't you remember the day you played Rarey with Puck,
and we all looked on?  Meg and Beth were frightened, but Jo
clapped and pranced, and I sat on the fence and drew you.  I
found that sketch in my portfolio the other day, touched it
up, and kept it to show you."

"Much obliged.  You've improved immensely since then,
and I congratulate you.  May I venture to suggest in 'a
honeymoon paradise' that five o'clock is the dinner hour at
your hotel?"

Laurie rose as he spoke, returned the pictures with a smile
and a bow and looked at his watch, as if to remind her that
even moral lectures should have an end.  He tried to resume his
former easy, indifferent air, but it was an affectation now, for
the rousing had been more effacious than he would confess.  Amy
felt the shade of coldness in his manner, and said to herself . . .

"Now, I've offended him.  Well, if it does him good, I'm
glad, if it makes him hate me, I'm sorry, but it's true, and
I can't take back a word of it."

They laughed and chatted all the way home, and little
Baptiste, up behind, thought that monsieur and madamoiselle
were in charming spirits.  But both felt ill at ease.  The
friendly frankness was disturbed, the sunshine had a shadow
over it, and despite their apparent gaiety, there was a secret
discontent in the heart of each.

"Shall we see you this evening, mon frere?" asked Amy, as
they parted at her aunt's door.

"Unfortunately I have an engagement.  Au revoir, madamoiselle,"
and Laurie bent as if to kiss her hand, in the foreign fashion,
which became him better than many men.  Something in his face
made Amy say quickly and warmly . . .

"No, be yourself with me, Laurie, and part in the good old way.
I'd rather have a hearty English handshake than all the
sentimental salutations in France."

"Goodbye, dear," and with these words, uttered in the tone she liked,
Laurie left her, after a handshake almost painful in its heartiness.

Next morning, instead of the usual call, Amy received a
note which made her smile at the beginning and sigh at the end.

My Dear Mentor,
Please make my adieux to your aunt, and exult within
yourself, for 'Lazy Laurence' has gone to his grandpa, like
the best of boys.  A pleasant winter to you, and may the gods
grant you a blissful honeymoon at Valrosa!  I think Fred
would be benefited by a rouser.  Tell him so, with my congratulations.

Yours gratefully, Telemachus


"Good boy!  I'm glad he's gone," said Amy, with an approving smile.
The next minute her face fell as she glanced about the empty room,
adding, with an involuntary sigh, "Yes, I am glad, but how I shall
miss him."




CHAPTER FORTY

THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW

When the first bitterness was over, the family accepted
the inevitable, and tried to bear it cheerfully, helping one
another by the increased affection which comes to bind households
tenderly together in times of trouble.  They put away their grief,
and each did his or her part toward making that last year a happy one.

The pleasantest room in the house was set apart for Beth,
and in it was gathered everything that she most loved, flowers,
pictures, her piano, the little worktable, and the beloved
pussies.  Father's best books found their way there, Mother's
easy chair, Jo's desk, Amy's finest sketches, and every day
Meg brought her babies on a loving pilgrimage, to make sunshine
for Aunty Beth.  John quietly set apart a little sum, that he
might enjoy the pleasure of keeping the invalid supplied with
the fruit she loved and longed for.  Old Hannah never wearied
of concocting dainty dishes to tempt a capricious appetite,
dropping tears as she worked, and from across the sea came
little gifts and cheerful letters, seeming to bring breaths
of warmth and fragrance from lands that know no winter.

Here, cherished like a household saint in its shrine, sat
Beth, tranquil and busy as ever, for nothing could change the
sweet, unselfish nature, and even while preparing to leave
life, she tried to make it happier for those who should remain
behind.  The feeble fingers were never idle, and one of her
pleasures was to make little things for the school children
daily passing to and fro, to drop a pair of mittens from her
window for a pair of purple hands, a needlebook for some small
mother of many dolls, penwipers for young penmen toiling through
forests of pothooks, scrapbooks for picture-loving eyes, and
all manner of pleasant devices, till the reluctant climbers of
the ladder of learning found their way strewn with flowers, as
it were, and came to regard the gentle giver as a sort of fairy
godmother, who sat above there, and showered down gifts miraculously
suited to their tastes and needs.  If Beth had wanted any
reward, she found it in the bright little faces always turned up
to her window, with nods and smiles, and the droll little letters
which came to her, full of blots and gratitude.

The first few months were very happy ones, and Beth often
used to look round, and say "How beautiful this is!" as they
all sat together in her sunny room, the babies kicking and crowing
on the floor, mother and sisters working near, and father
reading, in his pleasant voice, from the wise old books which
seemed rich in good and comfortable words, as applicable now as
when written centuries ago, a little chapel, where a paternal
priest taught his flock the hard lessons all must learn, trying
to show them that hope can comfort love, and faith make resignation
possible.  Simple sermons, that went straight to the souls of
those who listened, for the father's heart was in the minister's
religion, and the frequent falter in the voice gave a double
eloquence to the words he spoke or read.

It was well for all that this peaceful time was given them as
preparation for the sad hours to come, for by-and-by, Beth said the
needle was 'so heavy', and put it down forever.  Talking wearied her,
faces troubled her, pain claimed her for its own, and her tranquil
spirit was sorrowfully perturbed by the ills that vexed her feeble
flesh.  Ah me! Such heavy days, such long, long nights, such aching
hearts and imploring prayers, when those who loved her best were
forced to see the thin hands stretched out to them beseechingly, to
hear the bitter cry, "Help me, help me!" and to feel that there was
no help.  A sad eclipse of the serene soul, a sharp struggle of the
young life with death, but both were mercifully brief, and then the
natural rebellion over, the old peace returned more beautiful than
ever.  With the wreck of her frail body, Beth's soul grew strong, and
though she said little, those about her felt that she was ready, saw
that the first pilgrim called was likewise the fittest, and waited
with her on the shore, trying to see the Shining Ones coming to
receive her when she crossed the river.

Jo never left her for an hour since Beth had said "I feel
stronger when you are here."  She slept on a couch in the room,
waking often to renew the fire, to feed, lift, or wait upon the
patient creature who seldom asked for anything, and 'tried not to
be a trouble'.  All day she haunted the room, jealous of any other
nurse, and prouder of being chosen then than of any honor her life
ever brought her.  Precious and helpful hours to Jo, for now her
heart received the teaching that it needed.  Lessons in patience
were so sweetly taught her that she could not fail to learn them,
charity for all, the lovely spirit that can forgive and truly
forget unkindness, the loyalty to duty that makes the hardest
easy, and the sincere faith that fears nothing, but trusts 
undoubtingly.

Often when she woke Jo found Beth reading in her well-worn
little book, heard her singing softly, to beguile the sleepless
night, or saw her lean her face upon her hands, while slow tears
dropped through the transparent fingers, and Jo would lie watching
her with thoughts too deep for tears, feeling that Beth, in
her simple, unselfish way, was trying to wean herself from the
dear old life, and fit herself for the life to come, by sacred
words of comfort, quiet prayers, and the music she loved so well.

Seeing this did more for Jo than the wisest sermons, the
saintliest hymns, the most fervent prayers that any voice could
utter.  For with eyes made clear by many tears, and a heart
softened by the tenderest sorrow, she recognized the beauty of
her sister's life--uneventful, unambitious, yet full of the
genuine virtues which 'smell sweet, and blossom in the dust',
the self-forgetfulness that makes the humblest on earth remembered
soonest in heaven, the true success which is possible to all.

One night when Beth looked among the books upon her table,
to find something to make her forget the mortal weariness that
was almost as hard to bear as pain, as she turned the leaves of
her old favorite, Pilgrims's Progress, she found a little paper,
scribbled over in Jo's hand.  The name caught her eye and the
blurred look of the lines made her sure that tears had fallen
on it.

"Poor Jo!  She's fast asleep, so I won't wake her to ask
leave.  She shows me all her things, and I don't think she'll
mind if I look at this", thought Beth, with a glance at her
sister, who lay on the rug, with the tongs beside her, ready
to wake up the minute the log fell apart.

    MY BETH

    Sitting patient in the shadow
    Till the blessed light shall come,
    A serene and saintly presence
    Sanctifies our troubled home.
    Earthly joys and hopes and sorrows
    Break like ripples on the strand
    Of the deep and solemn river
    Where her willing feet now stand.

    O my sister, passing from me,
    Out of human care and strife,
    Leave me, as a gift, those virtues
    Which have beautified your life.
    Dear, bequeath me that great patience
    Which has power to sustain
    A cheerful, uncomplaining spirit
    In its prison-house of pain.

    Give me, for I need it sorely,
    Of that courage, wise and sweet,
    Which has made the path of duty
    Green beneath your willing feet.
    Give me that unselfish nature,
    That with charity devine
    Can pardon wrong for love's dear sake--
    Meek heart, forgive me mine!

    Thus our parting daily loseth
    Something of its bitter pain,
    And while learning this hard lesson,
    My great loss becomes my gain.
    For the touch of grief will render
    My wild nature more serene,
    Give to life new aspirations,
    A new trust in the unseen.

    Henceforth, safe across the river,
    I shall see forever more
    A beloved, household spirit
    Waiting for me on the shore.
    Hope and faith, born of my sorrow,
    Guardian angels shall become,
    And the sister gone before me
    By their hands shall lead me home.

Blurred and blotted, faulty and feeble as the lines were, they
brought a look of inexpressible comfort to Beth's face, for her one
regret had been that she had done so little, and this seemed to
assure her that her life had not been useless, that her death would
not bring the despair she feared.  As she sat with the paper folded
between her hands, the charred log fell asunder.  Jo started up,
revived the blaze, and crept to the bedside, hoping Beth slept.

"Not asleep, but so happy, dear.  See, I found this and read it.
I knew you wouldn't care.  Have I been all that to you, Jo?" she
asked, with wistful, humble earnestness.

"_Oh_, Beth, so much, so much!" and Jo's head went down upon the
pillow beside her sister's.

"Then I don't feel as if I'd wasted my life.  I'm not so good
as you make me, but I have tried to do right.  And now, when it's
too late to begin even to do better, it's such a comfort to know
that someone loves me so much, and feels as if I'd helped them."

"More than any one in the world, Beth.  I used to think I
couldn't let you go, but I'm learning to feel that I don't lose
you, that you'll be more to me than ever, and death can't part
us, though it seems to."

"I know it cannot, and I don't fear it any longer, for I'm
sure I shall be your Beth still, to love and help you more than
ever.  You must take my place, Jo, and be everything to Father
and Mother when I'm gone.  They will turn to you, don't fail
them, and if it's hard to work alone, remember that I don't
forget you, and that you'll be happier in doing that than writing
splendid books or seeing all the world, for love is the only thing
that we can carry with us when we go, and it makes the end so easy."

"I'll try, Beth." and then and there Jo renounced her old
ambition, pledged herself to a new and better one, acknowledging
the poverty of other desires, and feeling the blessed solace of
a belief in the immortality of love.

So the spring days came and went, the sky grew clearer, the
earth greener, the flowers were up fairly early, and the birds
came back in time to say goodbye to Beth, who, like a tired but
trustful child, clung to the hands that had led her all her life,
as Father and Mother guided her tenderly through the Valley of
the Shadow, and gave her up to God.

Seldom except in books do the dying utter memorable words,
see visions, or depart with beatified countenances, and those
who have sped many parting souls know that to most the end
comes as naturally and simply as sleep.  As Beth had hoped, the
'tide went out easily', and in the dark hour before dawn, on
the bosom where she had drawn her first breath, she quietly
drew her last, with no farewell but one loving look, one little
sigh.

With tears and prayers and tender hands, Mother and sisters
made her ready for the long sleep that pain would never mar again,
seeing with grateful eyes the beautiful serenity that soon replaced
the pathetic patience that had wrung their hearts so long, and
feeling with reverent joy that to their darling death was a
benignant angel, not a phantom full of dread.

When morning came, for the first time in many months the fire was
out, Jo's place was empty, and the room was very still.  But a bird
sang blithely on a budding bough, close by, the snowdrops blossomed
freshly at the window, and the spring sunshine streamed in like a
benediction over the placid face upon the pillow, a face so full of
painless peace that those who loved it best smiled through their
tears, and thanked God that Beth was well at last.



CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

LEARNING TO FORGET

Amy's lecture did Laurie good, though, of course, he did
not own it till long afterward.  Men seldom do, for when women
are the advisers, the lords of creation don't take the advice
till they have persuaded themselves that it is just what they
intended to do.  Then they act upon it, and, if it succeeds,
they give the weaker vessel half the credit of it.  If it
fails, they generously give her the whole.  Laurie went back
to his grandfather, and was so dutifully devoted for several
weeks that the old gentleman declared the climate of Nice had
improved him wonderfully, and he had better try it again.
There was nothing the young gentleman would have liked better,
but elephants could not have dragged him back after the scolding
he had received.  Pride forbid, and whenever the longing
grew very strong, he fortified his resolution by repeating
the words that had made the deepest impression--"I despise you."
"Go and do something splendid that will make her love you."

Laurie turned the matter over in his mind so often that he soon
brought himself to confess that he had been selfish and lazy,
but then when a man has a great sorrow, he should be indulged
in all sorts of vagaries till he has lived it down.  He felt
that his blighted affections were quite dead now, and though
he should never cease to be a faithful mourner, there was
no occasion to wear his weeds ostentatiously.  Jo wouldn't
love him, but he might make her respect and admire him by doing
something which should prove that a girl's 'No' had not spoiled
his life.  He had always meant to do something, and Amy's
advice was quite unnecessary.  He had only been waiting till
the aforesaid blighted affections were decently interred.
That being done, he felt that he was ready to 'hide his
stricken heart, and still toil on'.

As Goethe, when he had a joy or a grief, put it into a song,
so Laurie resolved to embalm his love sorrow in music, and to
compose a Requiem which should harrow up Jo's soul and melt the
heart of every hearer.  Therefore the next time the old gentleman
found him getting restless and moody and ordered him off,
he went to Vienna, where he had musical friends, and fell to
work with the firm determination to distinguish himself.  But
whether the sorrow was too vast to be embodied in music, or
music too ethereal to uplift a mortal woe, he soon discovered
that the Requiem was beyond him just at present.  It was evident
that his mind was not in working order yet, and his ideas
needed clarifying, for often in the middle of a plaintive strain,
he would find himself humming a dancing tune that vividly recalled
the Christmas ball at Nice, especially the stout Frenchman,
and put an effectual stop to tragic composition for the time being.

Then he tried an opera, for nothing seemed impossible in
the beginning, but here again unforeseen difficulties beset
him.  He wanted Jo for his heroine, and called upon his memory
to supply him with tender recollections and romantic visions
of his love.  But memory turned traitor, and as if possessed
by the perverse spirit of the girl, would only recall Jo's
oddities, faults, and freaks, would only show her in the most
unsentimental aspects--beating mats with her head tied up in
a bandanna, barricading herself with the sofa pillow, or throwing
cold water over his passion a la Gummidge--and an irresistable
laugh spoiled the pensive picture he was endeavoring to
paint.  Jo wouldn't be put into the opera at any price, and he
had to give her up with a "Bless that girl, what a torment she is!"
and a clutch at his hair, as became a distracted composer.

When he looked about him for another and a less intractable
damsel to immortalize in melody, memory produced one with the
most obliging readiness.  This phantom wore many faces, but it
always had golden hair, was enveloped in a diaphanous cloud, and
floated airily before his mind's eye in a pleasing chaos of roses,
peacocks, white ponies, and blue ribbons.  He did not give the
complacent wraith any name, but he took her for his heroine and
grew quite fond of her, as well he might, for he gifted her with
every gift and grace under the sun, and escorted her, unscathed,
through trials which would have annihilated any mortal woman.

Thanks to this inspiration, he got on swimmingly for a time,
but gradually the work lost its charm, and he forgot to compose,
while he sat musing, pen in hand, or roamed about the gay city
to get some new ideas and refresh his mind, which seemed to be
in a somewhat unsettled state that winter.  He did not do much,
but he thought a great deal and was conscious of a change of
some sort going on in spite of himself.  "It's genius simmering,
perhaps.  I'll let it simmer, and see what comes of it," he said,
with a secret suspicion all the while that it wasn't genius, but
something far more common.  Whatever it was, it simmered to
some purpose, for he grew more and more discontented with his
desultory life, began to long for some real and earnest work
to go at, soul and body, and finally came to the wise conclusion
that everyone who loved music was not a composer.  Returning
from one of Mozart's grand operas, splendidly performed at
the Royal Theatre, he looked over his own, played a few of the
best parts, sat staring at the busts of Mendelssohn, Beethoven,
and Bach, who stared benignly back again.  Then suddenly he
tore up his music sheets, one by one, and as the last fluttered
out of his hand, he said soberly to himself . . .

"She is right!  Talent isn't genius, and you can't make it
so.  That music has taken the vanity out of me as Rome took it
out of her, and I won't be a humbug any longer.  Now what shall
I do?"

That seemed a hard question to answer, and Laurie began to
wish he had to work for his daily bread.  Now if ever, occurred
an eligible opportunity for 'going to the devil', as he once
forcibly expressed it, for he had plenty of money and nothing
to do, and Satan is proverbially fond of providing employment
for full and idle hands.  The poor fellow had temptations
enough from without and from within, but he withstood them
pretty well, for much as he valued liberty, he valued good
faith and confidence more, so his promise to his grandfather,
and his desire to be able to look honestly into the eyes of
the women who loved him, and say "All's well," kept him safe
and steady.

Very likely some Mrs. Grundy will observe, "I don't believe it,
boys will be boys, young men must sow their wild oats,
and women must not expect miracles."  I dare say you don't,
Mrs. Grundy, but it's true nevertheless.  Women work
a good many miracles, and I have a persuasion that they may
perform even that of raising the standard of manhood by
refusing to echo such sayings.  Let the boys be boys, the
longer the better, and let the young men sow their wild oats
if they must.  But mothers, sisters, and friends may help to
make the crop a small one, and keep many tares from spoiling
the harvest, by believing, and showing that they believe, in
the possibility of loyalty to the virtues which make men manliest
in good women's eyes.  If it is a feminine delusion, leave us
to enjoy it while we may, for without it half the beauty and
the romance of life is lost, and sorrowful forebodings would
embitter all our hopes of the brave, tenderhearted little lads,
who still love their mothers better than themselves and are
not ashamed to own it.

Laurie thought that the task of forgetting his love for Jo
would absorb all his powers for years, but to his great surprise
he discovered it grew easier every day.  He refused to believe
it at first, got angry with himself, and couldn't understand it,
but these hearts of ours are curious and contrary things, and
time and nature work their will in spite of us.  Laurie's heart
wouldn't ache.  The wound persisted in healing with a rapidity
that astonished him, and instead of trying to forget, he found
himself trying to remember.  He had not foreseen this turn of
affairs, and was not prepared for it.  He was disgusted with
himself, surprised at his own fickleness, and full of a
queer mixture of disappointment and relief that he could
recover from such a tremendous blow so soon.  He carefully
stirred up the embers of his lost love, but they refused to
burst into a blaze.  There was only a comfortable glow that
warmed and did him good without putting him into a fever,
and he was reluctantly obliged to confess that the boyish
passion was slowly subsiding into a more tranquil sentiment,
very tender, a little sad and resentful still, but that was
sure to pass away in time, leaving a brotherly affection
which would last unbroken to the end.

As the word 'brotherly' passed through his mind in one
of his reveries, he smiled, and glanced up at the picture of
Mozart that was before him . . .

"Well, he was a great man, and when he couldn't have
one sister he took the other, and was happy."

Laurie did not utter the words, but he thought them, and
the next instant kissed the little old ring, saying to himself,
"No, I won't!  I haven't forgotten, I never can.  I'll try again,
and if that fails, why then . . ."

Leaving his sentence unfinished, he seized pen and paper
and wrote to Jo, telling her that he could not settle to anything
while there was the least hope of her changing her mind.
Couldn't she, wouldn't she--and let him come home and be happy?
While waiting for an answer he did nothing, but he did it
energetically, for he was in a fever of impatience.  It came
at last, and settled his mind effectually on one point, for Jo
decidedly couldn't and wouldn't.  She was wrapped up in Beth,
and never wished to hear the word love again.  Then she begged
him to be happy with somebody else, but always keep a little
corner of his heart for his loving sister Jo.  In a postscript
she desired him not to tell Amy that Beth was worse, she was
coming home in the spring and there was no need of saddening
the remainder of her stay.  That would be time enough, please
God, but Laurie must write to her often, and not let her feel
lonely, homesick or anxious.

"So I will, at once.  Poor little girl, it will be a sad
going home for her, I'm afraid," and Laurie opened his desk,
as if writing to Amy had been the proper conclusion of the
sentence left unfinished some weeks before.

But he did not write the letter that day, for as he rummaged
out his best paper, he came across something which
changed his purpose.  Tumbling about in one part of the desk
among bills, passports, and business documents of various kinds
were several of Jo's letters, and in another compartment were
three notes from Amy, carefully tied up with one of her blue
ribbons and sweetly suggestive of the little dead roses put
away inside.  With a half-repentant, half-amused expression,
Laurie gathered up all Jo's letters, smoothed, folded, and put
them neatly into a small drawer of the desk, stood a minute
turning the ring thoughtfully on his finger, then slowly drew
it off, laid it with the letters, locked the drawer, and went
out to hear High Mass at Saint Stefan's, feeling as if there
had been a funeral, and though not overwhelmed with affliction,
this seemed a more proper way to spend the rest of the day than
in writing letters to charming young ladies.

The letter went very soon, however, and was promptly answered,
for Amy was homesick, and confessed it in the most
delightfully confiding manner.  The correspondence flourished
famously, and letters flew to and fro with unfailing regularity
all through the early spring.  Laurie sold his busts, made
allumettes of his opera, and went back to Paris, hoping somebody
would arrive before long.  He wanted desperately to go
to Nice, but would not till he was asked, and Amy would not
ask him, for just then she was having little experiences of
her own, which made her rather wish to avoid the quizzical
eyes of 'our boy'.

Fred Vaughn had returned, and put the question to which
she had once decided to answer, "Yes, thank you," but now she
said, "No, thank you," kindly but steadily, for when the time
came, her courage failed her, and she found that something
more than money and position was needed to satisfy the new
longing that filled her heart so full of tender hopes and
fears.  The words, "Fred is a good fellow, but not at all
the man I fancied you would ever like," and Laurie's face
when he uttered them, kept returning to her as pertinaciously
as her own did when she said in look, if not in words, "I
shall marry for money."  It troubled her to remember that
now, she wished she could take it back, it sounded so unwomanly.
She didn't want Laurie to think her a heartless,  worldly
creature.  She didn't care to be a queen of society now
half so much as she did to be a lovable woman.  She was
so glad he didn't hate her for the dreadful things she said,
but took them so beautifully and was kinder than ever.  His
letters were such a comfort, for the home letters were very
irregular and not half so satisfactory as his when they did
come.  It was not only a pleasure, but a duty to answer them,
for the poor fellow was forlorn, and needed petting, since Jo
persisted in being stonyhearted.  She ought to have made an
effort and tried to love him.  It couldn't be very hard,
many people would be proud and glad to have such a dear boy
care for them.  But Jo never would act like other girls, so
there was nothing to do but be very kind and treat him like
a brother.

If all brothers were treated as well as Laurie was at
this period, they would be a much happier race of beings than
they are.  Amy never lectured now.  She asked his opinion on
all subjects, she was interested in everything he did, made
charming little presents for him, and sent him two letters
a week, full of lively gossip, sisterly confidences, and
captivating sketches of the lovely scenes about her.  As few
brothers are complimented by having their letters carried
about in their sister's pockets, read and reread diligently,
cried over when short, kissed when long, and treasured carefully,
we will not hint that Amy did any of these fond and
foolish things.  But she certainly did grow a little pale
and pensive that spring, lost much of her relish for society,
and went out sketching alone a good deal.  She never had much
to show when she came home, but was studying nature, I dare
say, while she sat for hours, with her hands folded, on the
terrace at Valrosa, or absently sketched any fancy that
occurred to her, a stalwart knight carved on a tomb, a young
man asleep in the grass, with his hat over his eyes, or a curly
haired girl in gorgeous array, promenading down a ballroom on
the arm of a tall gentleman, both faces being left a blur
according to the last fashion in art, which was safe but not
altogether satisfactory.

Her aunt thought that she regretted her answer to Fred,
and finding denials useless and explanations impossible, Amy
left her to think what she liked, taking care that Laurie
should know that Fred had gone to Egypt.  That was all, but
he understood it, and looked relieved, as he said to himself,
with a venerable air . . .

"I was sure she would think better of it.  Poor old fellow!
I've been through it all, and I can sympathize."

With that he heaved a great sigh, and then, as if he had
discharged his duty to the past, put his feet up on the sofa
and enjoyed Amy's letter luxuriously.

While these changes were going on abroad, trouble had
come at home.  But the letter telling that Beth was failing
never reached Amy, and when the next found her at Vevay, for
the heat had driven them from Nice in May, and they had travelled
slowly to Switzerland, by way of Genoa and the Italian
lakes.  She bore it very well, and quietly submitted to the
family decree that she should not shorten her visit, for
since it was too late to say goodbye to Beth, she had better
stay, and let absence soften her sorrow.  But her heart was
very heavy, she longed to be at home, and every day looked
wistfully across the lake, waiting for Laurie to come and
comfort her.

He did come very soon, for the same mail brought letters
to them both, but he was in Germany, and it took some days to
reach him.  The moment he read it, he packed his knapsack,
bade adieu to his fellow pedestrians, and was off to keep his
promise, with a heart full of joy and sorrow, hope and suspense.

He knew Vevay well, and as soon as the boat touched the
little quay, he hurried along the shore to La Tour, where the
Carrols were living en pension.  The garcon was in despair
that the whole family had gone to take a promenade on the
lake, but no, the blonde mademoiselle might be in the chateau
garden.  If monsieur would give himself the pain of sitting
down, a flash of time should present her.  But monsieur could
not wait even a 'flash of time', and in the middle of the
speech departed to find mademoiselle himself.

A pleasant old garden on the borders of the lovely lake,
with chestnuts rustling overhead, ivy climbing everywhere, and
the black shadow of the tower falling far across the sunny
water.  At one corner of the wide, low wall was a seat, and here
Amy often came to read or work, or console herself with the
beauty all about her.  She was sitting here that day, leaning
her head on her hand, with a homesick heart and heavy eyes,
thinking of Beth and wondering why Laurie did not come.  She
did not hear him cross the courtyard beyond, nor see him pause
in the archway that led from the subterranean path into the
garden.  He stood a minute looking at her with new eyes, seeing
what no one had ever seen before, the tender side of Amy's character.
Everything about her mutely suggested love and sorrow,
the blotted letters in her lap, the black ribbon that tied up
her hair, the womanly pain and patience in her face, even the
little ebony cross at her throat seemed pathetic to Laurie,
for he had given it to her, and she wore it as her only ornament.
If he had any doubts about the reception she would give
him, they were set at rest the minute she looked up and saw
him, for dropping everything, she ran to him, exclaiming in a
tone of unmistakable love and longing . . .

"Oh, Laurie, Laurie, I knew you'd come to me!"

I think everything was said and settled then, for as they
stood together quite silent for a moment, with the dark head
bent down protectingly over the light one, Amy felt that no
one could comfort and sustain her so well as Laurie, and
Laurie decided that Amy was the only woman in the world who
could fill Jo's place and make him happy.  He did not tell her
so, but she was not disappointed, for both felt the truth,
were satisfied, and gladly left the rest to silence.

In a minute Amy went back to her place, and while she
dried her tears, Laurie gathered up the scattered papers,
finding in the sight of sundry well-worn letters and suggestive
sketches good omens for the future.  As he sat down beside her,
Amy felt shy again, and turned rosy red at the recollection of
her impulsive greeting.

"I couldn't help it, I felt so lonely and sad, and was so
very glad to see you.  It was such a surprise to look up and find
you, just as I was beginning to fear you wouldn't come," she said,
trying in vain to speak quite naturally.

"I came the minute I heard.  I wish I could say something
to comfort you for the loss of dear little Beth, but I can only
feel, and . . ."  He could not get any further, for he too
turned bashful all of a sudden, and did not quite know what to
say.  He longed to lay Amy's head down on his shoulder, and tell
her to have a good cry, but he did not dare, so took her hand
instead, and gave it a sympathetic squeeze that was better than
words.

"You needn't say anything, this comforts me," she said
softly.  "Beth is well and happy, and I mustn't wish her back,
but I dread the going home, much as I long to see them all.
We won't talk about it now, for it makes me cry, and I want
to enjoy you while you stay.  You needn't go right back, need
you?"

"Not if you want me, dear."

"I do, so much.  Aunt and Flo are very kind, but you
seem like one of the family, and it would be so comfortable to
have you for a little while."

Amy spoke and looked so like a homesick child whose heart
was full that Laurie forgot his bashfulness all at once, and
gave her just what she wanted--the petting she was used to and
the cheerful conversation she needed.

"Poor little soul, you look as if you'd grieved yourself
half sick!  I'm going to take care of you, so don't cry any
more, but come and walk about with me, the wind is too chilly
for you to sit still," he said, in the half-caressing,
half-commanding way that Amy liked, as he tied on her hat,
drew her arm through his, and began to pace up and down the
sunny walk under the new-leaved chestnuts.  He felt more at
ease upon his legs, and Amy found it pleasant to have a strong
arm to lean upon, a familiar face to smile at her, and a kind
voice to talk delightfully for her alone.

The quaint old garden had sheltered many pairs of lovers,
and seemed expressly made for them, so sunny and secluded was
it, with nothing but the tower to overlook them, and the wide
lake to carry away the echo of their words, as it rippled by
below.  For an hour this new pair walked and talked, or rested
on the wall, enjoying the sweet influences which gave such a
charm to time and place, and when an unromantic dinner bell
warned them away, Amy felt as if she left her burden of
loneliness and sorrow behind her in the chateau garden.

The moment Mrs. Carrol saw the girl's altered face, she
was illuminated with a new idea, and exclaimed to herself,
"Now I understand it all--the child has been pining for young
Laurence.  Bless my heart, I never thought of such a thing!"

With praiseworthy discretion, the good lady said nothing,
and betrayed no sign of enlightenment, but cordially urged
Laurie to stay and begged Amy to enjoy his society, for it
would do her more good than so much solitude.  Amy was a
model of docility, and as her aunt was a good deal occupied
with Flo, she was left to entertain her friend, and did it
with more than her usual success.

At Nice, Laurie had lounged and Amy had scolded.  At
Vevay, Laurie was never idle, but always walking, riding,
boating, or studying in the most energetic manner, while
Amy admired everything he did and followed his example as
far and as fast as she could.  He said the change was owing
to the climate, and she did not contradict him, being glad
of a like excuse for her own recovered health and spirits.

The invigorating air did them both good, and much exercise
worked wholesome changes in minds as well as bodies.
They seemed to get clearer views of life and duty up there
among the everlasting hills.  The fresh winds blew away
desponding doubts, delusive fancies, and moody mists.  The
warm spring sunshine brought out all sorts of aspiring ideas,
tender hopes, and happy thoughts.  The lake seemed to wash
away the troubles of the past, and the grand old mountains
to look benignly down upon them saying, "Little children,
love one another."

In spite of the new sorrow, it was a very happy time, so
happy that Laurie could not bear to disturb it by a word.  It
took him a little while to recover from his surprise at the
cure of his first, and as he had firmly believed, his last
and only love.  He consoled himself for the seeming disloyalty
by the thought that Jo's sister was almost the same as Jo's
self, and the conviction that it would have been impossible
to love any other woman but Amy so soon and so well.  His first
wooing had been of the tempestuous order, and he looked back
upon it as if through a long vista of years with a feeling of
compassion blended with regret.  He was not ashamed of it,
but put it away as one of the bitter-sweet experiences of his
life, for which he could be grateful when the pain was over.
His second wooing, he resolved, should be as calm and simple
as possible.  There was no need of having a scene, hardly
any need of telling Amy that he loved her, she knew it without
words and had given him his answer long ago.  It all came
about so naturally that no one could complain, and he knew that
everybody would be pleased, even Jo.  But when our first little
passion has been crushed, we are apt to be wary and slow in making
a second trial, so Laurie let the days pass, enjoying every hour,
and leaving to chance the utterance of the word that would
put an end to the first and sweetest part of his new romance.

He had rather imagined that the denoument would take place
in the chateau garden by moonlight, and in the most graceful and
decorous manner, but it turned out exactly the reverse, for the
matter was settled on the lake at noonday in a few blunt words.
They had been floating about all the morning, from gloomy
St.  Gingolf to sunny Montreux, with the Alps of Savoy on one side,
Mont St.  Bernard and the Dent du Midi on the other, pretty Vevay in
the valley, and Lausanne upon the hill beyond, a cloudless blue
sky overhead, and the bluer lake below, dotted with the picturesque
boats that look like white-winged gulls.

They had been talking of Bonnivard, as they glided past
Chillon, and of Rousseau, as they looked up at Clarens, where he
wrote his Heloise.  Neither had read it, but they knew it was a
love story, and each privately wondered if it was half as interesting
as their own.  Amy had been dabbling her hand in the water
during the little pause that fell between them, and when she looked
up, Laurie was leaning on his oars with an expression in his eyes
that made her say hastily, merely for the sake of saying something . . .

"You must be tired.  Rest a little, and let me row.  It will do me
good, for since you came I have been altogether lazy and luxurious."

"I'm not tired, but you may take an oar, if you like.  There's
room enough, though I have to sit nearly in the middle, else the
boat won't trim," returned Laurie, as if he rather liked the 
arrangement.

Feeling that she had not mended matters much, Amy took the
offered third of a seat, shook her hair over her face, and accepted
an oar.  She rowed as well as she did many other things, and though
she used both hands, and Laurie but one, the oars kept time, and
the boat went smoothly through the water.

"How well we pull together, don't we?" said Amy, who objected
to silence just then.

"So well that I wish we might always pull in the same boat.
Will you, Amy?" very tenderly.

"Yes, Laurie," very low.

Then they both stopped rowing, and unconsciously added a pretty
little tableau of human love and happiness to the dissolving views
reflected in the lake.



CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

ALL ALONE

It was easy to promise self-abnegation when self was
wrapped up in another, and heart and soul were purified by a
sweet example.  But when the helpful voice was silent, the
daily lesson over, the beloved presence gone, and nothing remained
but loneliness and grief, then Jo found her promise very
hard to keep.  How could she 'comfort Father and Mother' when
her own heart ached with a ceaseless longing for her sister,
how could she 'make the house cheerful' when all its light and
warmth and beauty seemed to have deserted it when Beth left the
old home for the new, and where in all the world could she 'find
some useful, happy work to do', that would take the place of the
loving service which had been its own reward?  She tried in a
blind, hopeless way to do her duty, secretly rebelling against
it all the while, for it seemed unjust that her few joys should
be lessened, her burdens made heavier, and life get harder and
harder as she toiled along.  Some people seemed to get all sunshine,
and some all shadow.  It was not fair, for she tried more
than Amy to be good, but never got any reward, only disappointment,
trouble and hard work.

Poor Jo, these were dark days to her, for something like
despair came over her when she thought of spending all her life
in that quiet house, devoted to humdrum cares, a few small pleasures,
and the duty that never seemed to grow any easier.  "I can't do it.
I wasn't meant for a life like this, and I know I shall break away
and do something desperate if somebody doesn't come and help me,"
she said to herself, when her first efforts failed and she fell
into the moody, miserable state of mind which often comes when
strong wills have to yield to the inevitable.

But someone did come and help her, though Jo did not recognize
her good angels at once because they wore familiar shapes and used
the simple spells best fitted to poor humanity.  Often she started
up at night, thinking Beth called her, and when the sight of the
little empty bed made her cry with the bitter cry of unsubmissive
sorrow, "Oh, Beth, come back!  Come back!" she did not stretch out
her yearning arms in vain.  For, as quick to hear her sobbing as
she had been to hear her sister's faintest whisper, her mother came
to comfort her, not with words only, but the patient tenderness
that soothes by a touch, tears that were mute reminders of a greater
grief than Jo's, and broken whispers, more eloquent than prayers,
because hopeful resignation went hand-in-hand with natural sorrow.
Sacred moments, when heart talked to heart in the silence of the
night, turning affliction to a blessing, which chastened grief and
strengthned love.  Feeling this, Jo's burden seemed easier to bear,
duty grew sweeter, and life looked more endurable, seen from the
safe shelter of her mother's arms.

When aching heart was a little comforted, troubled mind likewise
found help, for one day she went to the study, and leaning
over the good gray head lifted to welcome her with a tranquil smile,
she said very humbly, "Father, talk to me as you did to Beth.  I
need it more than she did, for I'm all wrong."

"My dear, nothing can comfort me like this," he answered,
with a falter in his voice, and both arms round her, as if he too,
needed help, and did not fear to ask for it.

Then, sitting in Beth's little chair close beside him, Jo told
her troubles, the resentful sorrow for her loss, the fruitless
efforts that discouraged her, the want of faith that made life look
so dark, and all the sad bewilderment which we call despair.  She
gave him entire confidence, he gave her the help she needed, and
both found consolation in the act.  For the time had come when they
could talk together not only as father and daughter, but as man and
woman, able and glad to serve each other with mutual sympathy as well
as mutual love.  Happy, thoughtful times there in the old study which
Jo called 'the church of one member', and from which she came with
fresh courage, recovered cheerfulness, and a more submissive spirit.
For the parents who had taught one child to meet death without fear,
were trying now to teach another to accept life without despondency
or distrust, and to use its beautiful opportunities with gratitude
and power.

Other helps had Jo--humble, wholesome duties and delights that
would not be denied their part in serving her, and which she slowly
learned to see and value.  Brooms and dishcloths never could
be as distasteful as they once had been, for Beth had presided
over both, and something of her housewifely spirit seemed to
linger around the little mop and the old brush, never thrown
away.  As she used them, Jo found herself humming the songs
Beth used to hum, imitating Beth's orderly ways, and giving the
little touches here and there that kept everything fresh and
cozy, which was the first step toward making home happy, though
she didn't know it till Hannah said with an approving squeeze
of the hand . . .

"You thoughtful creeter, you're determined we shan't miss
that dear lamb ef you can help it.  We don't say much, but we
see it, and the Lord will bless you for't, see ef He don't."

As they sat sewing together, Jo discovered how much improved
her sister Meg was, how well she could talk, how much she knew
about good, womanly impulses, thoughts, and feelings, how happy
she was in husband and children, and how much they were all doing
for each other.

"Marriage is an excellent thing, after all.  I wonder if I should
blossom out half as well as you have, if I tried it?, always
_'perwisin'_ I could," said Jo, as she constructed a kite for Demi
in the topsy-turvy nursery.

"It's just what you need to bring out the tender womanly half
of your nature, Jo.  You are like a chestnut burr, prickly outside,
but silky-soft within, and a sweet kernal, if one can only get at
it.  Love will make you show your heart one day, and then the rough
burr will fall off."

"Frost opens chestnut burrs, ma'am, and it takes a good shake
to bring them down.  Boys go nutting, and I don't care to be bagged
by them," returned Jo, pasting away at the kite which no wind that
blows would ever carry up, for Daisy had tied herself on as a bob.

Meg laughed, for she was glad to see a glimmer of Jo's old spirit,
but she felt it her duty to enforce her opinion by every argument in
her power, and the sisterly chats were not wasted, especially as two
of Meg's most effective arguments were the babies, whom Jo loved
tenderly.  Grief is the best opener of some hearts, and Jo's was
nearly ready for the bag.  A little more sunshine to ripen the nut,
then, not a boy's impatient shake, but a man's hand reached up to
pick it gently from the burr, and find the kernal sound and sweet.
If she suspected this, she would have shut up tight, and been more
prickly than ever, fortunately she wasn't thinking about herself, so
when the time came, down she dropped.

Now, if she had been the heroine of a moral storybook, she
ought at this period of her life to have become quite saintly,
renounced the world, and gone about doing good in a mortified
bonnet, with tracts in her pocket.  But, you see, Jo wasn't a
heroine, she was only a struggling human girl like hundreds of
others, and she just acted out her nature, being sad, cross, listless,
or energetic, as the mood suggested.  It's highly virtuous
to say we'll be good, but we can't do it all at once, and it takes
a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together before some
of us even get our feet set in the right way.  Jo had got so far,
she was learning to do her duty, and to feel unhappy if she did
not, but to do it cheerfully, ah, that was another thing!  She
had often said she wanted to do something splendid, no matter how
hard, and now she had her wish, for what could be more beautiful
than to devote her life to Father and Mother, trying to make home
as happy to them as they had to her?  And if difficulties were
necessary to increase the splendor of the effort, what could be
harder for a restless, ambitious girl than to give up her own
hopes, plans, and desires, and cheerfully live for others?

Providence had taken her at her word.  Here was the task, not
what she had expected, but better because self had no part in it.
Now, could she do it?  She decided that she would try, and in her
first attempt she found the helps I have suggested.  Still another
was given her, and she took it, not as a reward, but as a comfort,
as Christian took the refreshment afforded by the little arbor
where he rested, as he climbed the hill called Difficulty.

"Why don't you write?  That always used to make you happy,"
said her mother once, when the desponding fit over-shadowed Jo.

"I've no heart to write, and if I had, nobody cares for my
things."

"We do.  Write something for us, and never mind the rest of
the world.  Try it, dear.  I'm sure it would do you good, and
please us very much."

"Don't believe I can."  But Jo got out her desk and began to
overhaul her half-finished manuscripts.

An hour afterward her mother peeped in and there she was, scratching
away, with her black pinafore on, and an absorbed expression, which
caused Mrs. March to smile and slip away, well pleased with the
success of her suggestion.  Jo never knew how it happened, but
something got into that story that went straight to the hearts of
those who read it, for when her family had laughed and cried over
it, her father sent it, much against her will, to one of the popular
magazines, and to her utter surprise, it was not only paid for, but
others requested.  Letters from several persons, whose praise was
honor, followed the appearance of the little story, newspapers
copied it, and strangers as well as friends admired it.  For a small
thing it was a great success, and Jo was more astonished than when
her novel was commended and condemned all at once.

"I don't understand it.  What can there be in a simple little
story like that to make people praise it so?" she said, quite 
bewildered.

"There is truth in it, Jo, that's the secret.  Humor and pathos
make it alive, and you have found your style at last.  You wrote
with no thoughts of fame and money, and put your heart into it,
my daughter.  You have had the bitter, now comes the sweet.  Do
your best, and grow as happy as we are in your success."

"If there is anything good or true in what I write, it isn't
mine.  I owe it all to you and Mother and Beth," said Jo, more
touched by her father's words than by any amount of praise from
the world.

So taught by love and sorrow, Jo wrote her little stories,
and sent them away to make friends for themselves and her, finding
it a very charitable world to such humble wanderers, for they were
kindly welcomed, and sent home comfortable tokens to their mother,
like dutiful children whom good fortune overtakes.

When Amy and Laurie wrote of their engagement, Mrs. March
feared that Jo would find it difficult to rejoice over it, but
her fears were soon set at rest, for though Jo looked grave at
first, she took it very quietly, and was full of hopes and plans
for 'the children' before she read the letter twice.  It was a
sort of written duet, wherein each glorified the other in loverlike
fashion, very pleasant to read and satisfactory to think of,
for no one had any objection to make.

"You like it, Mother?" said Jo, as they laid down the closely
written sheets and looked at one another.

"Yes, I hoped it would be so, ever since Amy wrote that she
had refused Fred.  I felt sure then that something better than
what you call the 'mercenary spirit' had come over her, and a
hint here and there in her letters made me suspect that love
and Laurie would win the day."

"How sharp you are, Marmee, and how silent!  You never said
a word to me."

"Mothers have need of sharp eyes and discreet tongues when
they have girls to manage.  I was half afraid to put the idea
into your head, lest you should write and congratulate them before
the thing was settled."

"I'm not the scatterbrain I was.  You may trust me.  I'm
sober and sensible enough for anyone's confidante now."

"So you are, my dear, and I should have made you mine,
only I fancied it might pain you to learn that your Teddy loved
someone else."

"Now, Mother, did you really think I could be so silly and
selfish, after I'd refused his love, when it was freshest, if not
best?"

"I knew you were sincere then, Jo, but lately I have thought
that if he came back, and asked again, you might perhaps, feel like
giving another answer.  Forgive me, dear, I can't help seeing that
you are very lonely, and sometimes there is a hungry look in your
eyes that goes to my heart.  So I fancied that your boy might fill
the empty place if he tried now."

"No, Mother, it is better as it is, and I'm glad Amy has learned to
love him.  But you are right in one thing.  I am lonely, and perhaps
if Teddy had tried again, I might have said 'Yes', not because I
love him any more, but because I care more to be loved than when he
went away."

"I'm glad of that, Jo, for it shows that you are getting on.
There are plenty to love you, so try to be satisfied with Father
and Mother, sisters and brothers, friends and babies, till the
best lover of all comes to give you your reward."

"Mothers are the best lovers in the world, but I don't mind
whispering to Marmee that I'd like to try all kinds.  It's very
curious, but the more I try to satisfy myself with all sorts of
natural affections, the more I seem to want.  I'd no idea hearts
could take in so many.  Mine is so elastic, it never seems full
now, and I used to be quite contented with my family.  I don't
understand it."

"I do," and Mrs. March smiled her wise smile, as Jo turned
back the leaves to read what Amy said of Laurie.

"It is so beautiful to be loved as Laurie loves me.  He isn't
sentimental, doesn't say much about it, but I see and feel it in
all he says and does, and it makes me so happy and so humble that
I don't seem to be the same girl I was.  I never knew how good and
generous and tender he was till now, for he lets me read his heart,
and I find it full of noble impulses and hopes and purposes, and
am so proud to know it's mine.  He says he feels as if he 'could
make a prosperous voyage now with me aboard as mate, and lots of
love for ballast'.  I pray he may, and try to be all he believes
me, for I love my gallant captain with all my heart and soul and
might, and never will desert him, while God lets us be together.
Oh, Mother, I never knew how much like heaven this world could be,
when two people love and live for one another!"

"And that's our cool, reserved, and worldly Amy!  Truly, love
does work miracles.  How very, very happy they must be!" and Jo
laid the rustling sheets together with a careful hand, as one
might shut the covers of a lovely romance, which holds the reader
fast till the end comes, and he finds himself alone in the workaday
world again.

By-and-by Jo roamed away upstairs, for it was rainy, and she
could not walk.  A restless spirit possessed her, and the old
feeling came again, not bitter as it once was, but a sorrowfully
patient wonder why one sister should have all she asked, the other
nothing.  It was not true, she knew that and tried to put it away,
but the natural craving for affection was strong, and Amy's happiness
woke the hungry longing for someone to 'love with heart
and soul, and cling to while God let them be together'.
Up in the garret, where Jo's unquiet wanderings ended stood
four little wooden chests in a row, each marked with its owners
name, and each filled with relics of the childhood and girlhood
ended now for all.  Jo glanced into them, and when she came to
her own, leaned her chin on the edge, and stared absently at the
chaotic collection, till a bundle of old exercise books caught
her eye.  She drew them out, turned them over, and relived that
pleasant winter at kind Mrs. Kirke's.  She had smiled at first,
then she looked thoughtful, next sad, and when she came to a
little message written in the Professor's hand, her lips began
to tremble, the books slid out of her lap, and she sat looking
at the friendly words, as they took a new meaning, and touched
a tender spot in her heart.

"Wait for me, my friend.  I may be a little late, but I shall
surely come."

"Oh, if he only would!  So kind, so good, so patient with me
always, my dear old Fritz.  I didn't value him half enough when I
had him, but now how I should love to see him, for everyone seems
going away from me, and I'm all alone."

And holding the little paper fast, as if it were a promise
yet to be fulfilled, Jo laid her head down on a comfortable rag
bag, and cried, as if in opposition to the rain pattering on the
roof.

Was it all self-pity, loneliness, or low spirits?  Or was it
the waking up of a sentiment which had bided its time as patiently
as its inspirer?  Who shall say?



CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

SURPRISES

Jo was alone in the twilight, lying on the old sofa, looking
at the fire, and thinking.  It was her favorite way of spending
the hour of dusk.  No one disturbed her, and she used to lie
there on Beth's little red pillow, planning stories, dreaming
dreams, or thinking tender thoughts of the sister who never seemed
far away.  Her face looked tired, grave, and rather sad, for tomorrow
was her birthday, and she was thinking how fast the years
went by, how old she was getting, and how little she seemed to
have accomplished.  Almost twenty-five, and nothing to show for
it.  Jo was mistaken in that.  There was a good deal to show,
and by-and-by she saw, and was grateful for it.

"An old maid, that's what I'm to be.  A literary spinster,
with a pen for a spouse, a family of stories for children, and
twenty years hence a morsel of fame, perhaps, when, like poor
Johnson, I'm old and can't enjoy it, solitary, and can't share
it, independent, and don't need it.  Well, I needn't be a sour
saint nor a selfish sinner, and, I dare say, old maids are very
comfortable when they get used to it, but . . ." and there Jo
sighed, as if the prospect was not inviting.

It seldom is, at first, and thirty seems the end of all things
to five-and-twenty.  But it's not as bad as it looks, and one can
get on quite happily if one has something in one's self to fall
back upon.  At twenty-five, girls begin to talk about being old
maids, but secretly resolve that they never will be.  At thirty
they say nothing about it, but quietly accept the fact, and if
sensible, console themselves by remembering that they have twenty
more useful, happy years, in which they may be learning to grow
old gracefully.  Don't laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for
often very tender, tragic romances are hidden away in the hearts
that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices
of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces
beautiful in God's sight.  Even the sad, sour sisters should
be kindly dealt with, because they have missed the sweetest
part of life, if for no other reason.  And looking at them
with compassion, not contempt, girls in their bloom should remember
that they too may miss the blossom time.  That rosy cheeks
don't last forever, that silver threads will come in the bonnie
brown hair, and that, by-and-by, kindness and respect will be as
sweet as love and admiration now.

Gentlemen, which means boys, be courteous to the old maids,
no matter how poor and plain and prim, for the only chivalry
worth having is that which is the readiest to pay deference to
the old, protect the feeble, and serve womankind, regardless of
rank, age, or color.  Just recollect the good aunts who have not
only lectured and fussed, but nursed and petted, too often without
thanks, the scrapes they have helped you out of, the tips
they have given you from their small store, the stitches the
patient old fingers have set for you, the steps the willing old
feet have taken, and gratefully pay the dear old ladies the little
attentions that women love to receive as long as they live.  The
bright-eyed girls are quick to see such traits, and will like you
all the better for them, and if death, almost the only power that
can part mother and son, should rob you of yours, you will be sure
to find a tender welcome and maternal cherishing from some Aunt
Priscilla, who has kept the warmest corner of her lonely old heart
for 'the best nevvy in the world'.

Jo must have fallen asleep (as I dare say my reader has during
this little homily), for suddenly Laurie's ghost seemed to
stand before her, a substantial, lifelike ghost, leaning over her
with the very look he used to wear when he felt a good deal and
didn't like to show it.  But, like Jenny in the ballad . . .

She could not think it he

and lay staring up at him in startled silence, till he stooped 
and kissed her.  Then she knew him, and flew up, crying joyfully . . .

"Oh my Teddy!  Oh my Teddy!"

"Dear Jo, you are glad to see me, then?"

"Glad!  My blessed boy, words can't express my gladness.
Where's Amy?"

"Your mother has got her down at Meg's.  We stopped there by
the way, and there was no getting my wife out of their clutches."

"Your what?" cried Jo, for Laurie uttered those two words
with an unconscious pride and satisfaction which betrayed him.

"Oh, the dickens!  Now I've done it," and he looked so
guilty that Jo was down on him like a flash.

"You've gone and got married!"

"Yes, please, but I never will again," and he went down
upon his knees, with a penitent clasping of hands, and a face
full of mischief, mirth, and triumph.

"Actually married?"

"Very much so, thank you."

"Mercy on us.  What dreadful thing will you do next?" and
Jo fell into her seat with a gasp.

"A characteristic, but not exactly complimentary, congratulation,"
returned Laurie, still in an abject attitude, but beaming
with satisfaction.

"What can you expect, when you take one's breath away, creeping
in like a burglar, and letting cats out of bags like that? Get
up, you ridiculous boy, and tell me all about it."

"Not a word, unless you let me come in my old place, and
promise not to barricade."

Jo laughed at that as she had not done for many a long day,
and patted the sofa invitingly, as she said in a cordial tone,
"The old pillow is up garret, and we don't need it now.  So, come
and 'fess, Teddy."

"How good it sounds to hear you say 'Teddy'! No one ever calls
me that but you," and Laurie sat down with an air of great content.

"What does Amy call you?"

"My lord."

"That's like her.  Well, you look it," and Jo's eye plainly
betrayed that she found her boy comelier than ever.

The pillow was gone, but there was a barricade, nevertheless,
a natural one, raised by time, absence, and change of heart.  Both
felt it, and for a minute looked at one another as if that invisible
barrier cast a little shadow over them.  It was gone directly
however, for Laurie said, with a vain attempt at dignity . . .

"Don't I look like a married man and the head of a family?"

"Not a bit, and you never will.  You've grown bigger and
bonnier, but you are the same scapegrace as ever."

"Now really, Jo, you ought to treat me with more respect,"
began Laurie, who enjoyed it all immensely.

"How can I, when the mere idea of you, married and settled,
is so irresistibly funny that I can't keep sober!" answered Jo,
smiling all over her face, so infectiously that they had another
laugh, and then settled down for a good talk, quite in the pleasant
old fashion.

"It's no use your going out in the cold to get Amy, for
they are all coming up presently.  I couldn't wait.  I wanted to
be the one to tell you the grand surprise, and have 'first skim'
as we used to say when we squabbled about the cream."

"Of course you did, and spoiled your story by beginning at
the wrong end.  Now, start right, and tell me how it all happened.
I'm pining to know."

"Well, I did it to please Amy," began Laurie, with a twinkle
that made Jo exclaim . . .

"Fib number one.  Amy did it to please you.  Go on, and tell
the truth, if you can, sir."

"Now she's beginning to marm it.  Isn't it jolly to hear her?"
said Laurie to the fire, and the fire glowed and sparkled as if it
quite agreed.  "It's all the same, you know, she and I being one.
We planned to come home with the Carrols, a month or more ago, but
they suddenly changed their minds, and decided to pass another
winter in Paris.  But Grandpa wanted to come home.  He went to please
me, and I couldn't let him go alone, neither could I leave Amy, and
Mrs. Carrol had got English notions about chaperons and such nonsense,
and wouldn't let Amy come with us.  So I just settled the difficulty
by saying, 'Let's be married, and then we can do as we like'."

"Of course you did.  You always have things to suit you."

"Not always," and something in Laurie's voice made Jo say
hastily . . .

"How did you ever get Aunt to agree?"

"It was hard work, but between us, we talked her over, for we
had heaps of good reasons on our side.  There wasn't time to write
and ask leave, but you all liked it, had consented to it by-and-by,
and it was only 'taking time by the fetlock', as my wife says."

"Aren't we proud of those two words, and don't we like to say
them?" interrupted Jo, addressing the fire in her turn, and watching
with delight the happy light it seemed to kindle in the eyes
that had been so tragically gloomy when she saw them last.

"A trifle, perhaps, she's such a captivating little woman I
can't help being proud of her.  Well, then Uncle and Aunt were
there to play propriety.  We were so absorbed in one another we
were of no mortal use apart, and that charming arrangement would
make everything easy all round, so we did it."

"When, where, how?" asked Jo, in a fever of feminine interest
and curiosity, for she could not realize it a particle.

"Six weeks ago, at the American consul's, in Paris, a very
quiet wedding of course, for even in our happiness we didn't forget
dear little Beth."

Jo put her hand in his as he said that, and Laurie gently
smoothed the little red pillow, which he remembered well.

"Why didn't you let us know afterward?" asked Jo, in a
quieter tone, when they had sat quite still a minute.

"We wanted to surprise you.  We thought we were coming
directly home, at first, but the dear old gentleman, as soon as
we were married, found he couldn't be ready under a month, at
least, and sent us off to spend our honeymoon wherever we liked.
Amy had once called Valrosa a regular honeymoon home, so we went
there, and were as happy as people are but once in their lives.
My faith!  Wasn't it love among the roses!"

Laurie seemed to forget Jo for a minute, and Jo was glad of
it, for the fact that he told her these things so freely and so
naturally assured her that he had quite forgiven and forgotten.
She tried to draw away her hand, but as if he guessed the thought
that prompted the half-involuntary impulse, Laurie held it fast,
and said, with a manly gravity she had never seen in him before . . .

"Jo, dear, I want to say one thing, and then we'll put it by
forever.  As I told you in my letter when I wrote that Amy had
been so kind to me, I never shall stop loving you, but the love
is altered, and I have learned to see that it is better as it is.
Amy and you changed places in my heart, that's all.  I think it
was meant to be so, and would have come about naturally, if I had
waited, as you tried to make me, but I never could be patient, and
so I got a heartache.  I was a boy then, headstrong and violent,
and it took a hard lesson to show me my mistake.  For it was one,
Jo, as you said, and I found it out, after making a fool of myself.
Upon my word, I was so tumbled up in my mind, at one time, that I
didn't know which I loved best, you or Amy, and tried to love you
both alike.  But I couldn't, and when I saw her in Switzerland,
everything seemed to clear up all at once.  You both got into
your right places, and I felt sure that it was well off with the
old love before it was on with the new, that I could honestly
share my heart between sister Jo and wife Amy, and love them dearly.
Will you believe it, and go back to the happy old times when we
first knew one another?"

"I'll believe it, with all my heart, but, Teddy, we never can
be boy and girl again.  The happy old times can't come back, and we
mustn't expect it.  We are man and woman now, with sober work to do,
for playtime is over, and we must give up frolicking.  I'm sure you
feel this.  I see the change in you, and you'll find it in me.  I
shall miss my boy, but I shall love the man as much, and admire
him more, because he means to be what I hoped he would.  We can't
be little playmates any longer, but we will be brother and sister,
to love and help one another all our lives, won't we, Laurie?"

He did not say a word, but took the hand she offered him, and
laid his face down on it for a minute, feeling that out of the
grave of a boyish passion, there had risen a beautiful, strong
friendship to bless them both.  Presently Jo said cheerfully, for
she didn't want the coming home to be a sad one, "I can't make it true
that you children are really married and going to set up housekeeping.
Why, it seems only yesterday that I was buttoning Amy's pinafore,
and pulling your hair when you teased.  Mercy me, how time does fly!"

"As one of the children is older than yourself, you needn't
talk so like a grandma.  I flatter myself I'm a 'gentleman growed'
as Peggotty said of David, and when you see Amy, you'll find her
rather a precocious infant," said Laurie, looking amused at her
maternal air.

"You may be a little older in years, but I'm ever so much
older in feeling, Teddy.  Women always are, and this last year has
been such a hard one that I feel forty."

"Poor Jo!  We left you to bear it alone, while we went pleasuring.
You are older.  Here's a line, and there's another.  Unless you smile,
your eyes look sad, and when I touched the cushion, just now,
I found a tear on it.  You've had a great deal to bear,
and had to bear it all alone.  What a selfish beast I've been!"
and Laurie pulled his own hair, with a remorseful look.

But Jo only turned over the traitorous pillow, and answered,
in a tone which she tried to make more cheerful, "No, I had Father
and Mother to help me, and the dear babies to comfort me, and the
thought that you and Amy were safe and happy, to make the troubles
here easier to bear.  I am lonely, sometimes, but I dare say it's
good for me, and . . ."

"You never shall be again," broke in Laurie, putting his arm
about her, as if to fence out every human ill.  "Amy and I can't
get on without you, so you must come and teach 'the children' to
keep house, and go halves in everything, just as we used to do,
and let us pet you, and all be blissfully happy and friendly
together."

"If I shouldn't be in the way, it would be very pleasant.  I
begin to feel quite young already, for somehow all my troubles
seemed to fly away when you came.  You always were a comfort, Teddy,"
and Jo leaned her head on his shoulder, just as she did years ago,
when Beth lay ill and Laurie told her to hold on to him.

He looked down at her, wondering if she remembered the time,
but Jo was smiling to herself, as if in truth her troubles had
all vanished at his coming.

"You are the same Jo still, dropping tears about one minute,
and laughing the next.  You look a little wicked now.  What is it,
Grandma?"

"I was wondering how you and Amy get on together."

"Like angels!"

"Yes, of course, but which rules?"

"I don't mind telling you that she does now, at least I let
her think so, it pleases her, you know.  By-and-by we shall take
turns, for marriage, they say, halves one's rights and doubles
one's duties."

"You'll go on as you begin, and Amy will rule you all the
days of your life."

"Well, she does it so imperceptibly that I don't think I shall
mind much.  She is the sort of woman who knows how to rule well.  In
fact, I rather like it, for she winds one round her finger as softly
and prettily as a skein of silk, and makes you feel as if she was
doing you a favor all the while."

"That ever I should live to see you a henpecked husband and
enjoying it!" cried Jo, with uplifted hands.

It was good to see Laurie square his shoulders, and smile with
masculine scorn at that insinuation, as he replied, with his "high
and mighty" air, "Amy is too well-bred for that, and I am not the
sort of man to submit to it.  My wife and I respect ourselves and
one another too much ever to tyrannize or quarrel."

Jo liked that, and thought the new dignity very becoming, but
the boy seemed changing very fast into the man, and regret mingled
with her pleasure.

"I am sure of that.  Amy and you never did quarrel as we used to.
She is the sun and I the wind, in the fable, and the sun managed
the man best, you remember."

"She can blow him up as well as shine on him," laughed Laurie.
"such a lecture as I got at Nice!  I give you my word it was a deal
worse than any of your scoldings, a regular rouser.  I'll tell you
all about it sometime, she never will, because after telling me that
she despised and was ashamed of me, she lost her heart to the despicable
party and married the good-for-nothing."

"What baseness!  Well, if she abuses you, come to me, and I'll
defend you."

"I look as if I needed it, don't I?" said Laurie, getting up
and striking an attitude which suddenly changed from the imposing
to the rapturous, as Amy's voice was heard calling, "Where is she?
Where's my dear old Jo?"

In trooped the whole family, and everyone was hugged and kissed
all over again, and after several vain attempts, the three wanderers
were set down to be looked at and exulted over.  Mr. Laurence, hale
and hearty as ever, was quite as much improved as the others by his
foreign tour, for the crustiness seemed to be nearly gone, and the
old-fashioned courtliness had received a polish which made it kindlier
than ever.  It was good to see him beam at 'my children', as he
called the young pair.  It was better still to see Amy pay him
the daughterly duty and affection which completely won his old heart,
and best of all, to watch Laurie revolve about the two, as if never
tired of enjoying the pretty picture they made.

The minute she put her eyes upon Amy, Meg became conscious that
her own dress hadn't a Parisian air, that young Mrs. Moffat would be
entirely eclipsed by young Mrs. Laurence, and that 'her ladyship' was
altogether a most elegant and graceful woman.  Jo thought, as she
watched the pair, "How well they look together!  I was right, and
Laurie has found the beautiful, accomplished girl who will become
his home better than clumsy old Jo, and be a pride, not a torment to
him."  Mrs. March and her husband smiled and nodded at each other
with happy faces, for they saw that their youngest had done well,
not only in worldly things, but the better wealth of love, confidence,
and happiness.

For Amy's face was full of the soft brightness which betokens
a peaceful heart, her voice had a new tenderness in it, and the cool,
prim carriage was changed to a gentle dignity, both womanly and winning.
No little affectations marred it, and the cordial sweetness
of her manner was more charming than the new beauty or the old grace,
for it stamped her at once with the unmistakable sign of the true
gentlewoman she had hoped to become.

"Love has done much for our little girl," said her mother softly.

"She has had a good example before her all her life, my dear,"
Mr. March whispered back, with a loving look at the worn face and
gray head beside him.

Daisy found it impossible to keep her eyes off her 'pitty aunty',
but attached herself like a lap dog to the wonderful chatelaine full
of delightful charms.  Demi paused to consider the new relationship
before he compromised himself by the rash acceptance of a bribe,
which took the tempting form of a family of wooden bears from Berne.
A flank movement produced an unconditional surrender, however, for
Laurie knew where to have him.

"Young man, when I first had the honor of making your acquaintance
you hit me in the face.  Now I demand the satisfaction of a
gentleman," and with that the tall uncle proceeded to toss and
tousle the small nephew in a way that damaged his philosophical
dignity as much as it delighted his boyish soul.

"Blest if she ain't in silk from head to foot; ain't it a relishin' 
sight to see her settin' there as fine as a fiddle, and hear folks 
calling little Amy 'Mis.  Laurence!'" muttered old Hannah, who could 
not resist frequent "peeks" through the slide as she set the table
in a most decidedly promiscuous manner.

Mercy on us, how they did talk! first one, then the other, then all
burst out together--trying to tell the history of three years in
half an hour.  It was fortunate that tea was at hand, to produce a
lull and provide refreshment--for they would have been hoarse and
faint if they had gone on much longer.  Such a happy procession as
filed away into the little dining room! Mr. March proudly escorted
Mrs. Laurence.  Mrs. March as proudly leaned on the arm of 'my son'.
The old gentleman took Jo, with a whispered, "You must be my girl
now," and a glance at the empty corner by the fire, that made Jo
whisper back, "I'll try to fill her place, sir."

The twins pranced behind, feeling that the millennium was at
hand, for everyone was so busy with the newcomers that they were
left to revel at their own sweet will, and you may be sure they
made the most of the opportunity.  Didn't they steal sips of tea,
stuff gingerbread ad libitum, get a hot biscuit apiece, and as a
crowning trespass, didn't they each whisk a captivating little tart
into their tiny pockets, there to stick and crumble treacherously,
teaching them that both human nature and a pastry are frail?
Burdened with the guilty consciousness of the sequestered tarts,
and fearing that Dodo's sharp eyes would pierce the thin disguise of
cambric and merino which hid their booty, the little sinners
attached themselves to 'Dranpa', who hadn't his spectacles on.  Amy,
who was handed about like refreshments, returned to the parlor on
Father Laurence's arm.  The others paired off as before, and this
arrangement left Jo companionless.  She did not mind it at the
minute, for she lingered to answer Hannah's eager inquiry.

"Will Miss Amy ride in her coop (coupe), and use all them
lovely silver dishes that's stored away over yander?"

"Shouldn't wonder if she drove six white horses, ate off gold
plate, and wore diamonds and point lace every day.  Teddy thinks
nothing too good for her," returned Jo with infinite satisfaction.

"No more there is!  Will you have hash or fishballs for breakfast?"
asked Hannah, who wisely mingled poetry and prose.

"I don't care," and Jo shut the door, feeling that food was an
uncongenial topic just then.  She stood a minute looking at the
party vanishing above, and as Demi's short plaid legs toiled up the
last stair, a sudden sense of loneliness came over her so strongly
that she looked about her with dim eyes, as if to find something to
lean upon, for even Teddy had deserted her.  If she had known what
birthday gift was coming every minute nearer and nearer, she would
not have said to herself, "I'll weep a little weep when I go to bed.
It won't do to be dismal now."  Then she drew her hand over her eyes,
for one of her boyish habits was never to know where her
handkerchief was, and had just managed to call up a smile when
there came a knock at the porch door.

She opened with hospitable haste, and started as if another
ghost had come to surprise her, for there stood a tall bearded
gentleman, beaming on her from the darkness like a midnight sun.

"Oh, Mr. Bhaer, I am so glad to see you!" cried Jo, with a
clutch, as if she feared the night would swallow him up before
she could get him in.

"And I to see Miss Marsch, but no, you haf a party," and the
Professor paused as the sound of voices and the tap of dancing
feet came down to them.

"No, we haven't, only the family.  My sister and friends
have just come home, and we are all very happy.  Come in, and
make one of us."

Though a very social man, I think Mr. Bhaer would have gone
decorously away, and come again another day, but how could he,
when Jo shut the door behind him, and bereft him of his hat?
Perhaps her face had something to do with it, for she forgot
to hide her joy at seeing him, and showed it with a frankness
that proved irresistible to the solitary man, whose welcome far
exceeded his boldest hopes.

"If I shall not be Monsieur de Trop, I will so gladly see
them all.  You haf been ill, my friend?"

He put the question abruptly, for, as Jo hung up his coat,
the light fell on her face, and he saw a change in it.

"Not ill, but tired and sorrowful.  We have had trouble
since I saw you last."

"Ah, yes, I know.  My heart was sore for you when I heard
that," and he shook hands again, with such a sympathetic face
that Jo felt as if no comfort could equal the look of the kind
eyes, the grasp of the big, warm hand.

"Father, Mother, this is my friend, Professor Bhaer," she
said, with a face and tone of such irrepressible pride and
pleasure that she might as well have blown a trumpet and opened
the door with a flourish.

If the stranger had any doubts about his reception, they
were set at rest in a minute by the cordial welcome he received.
Everyone greeted him kindly, for Jo's sake at first, but very
soon they liked him for his own.  They could not help it, for
he carried the talisman that opens all hearts, and these simple
people warmed to him at once, feeling even the more friendly
because he was poor.  For poverty enriches those who live above
it, and is a sure passport to truly hospitable spirits.  Mr.
Bhaer sat looking about him with the air of a traveler who
knocks at a strange door, and when it opens, finds himself at
home.  The children went to him like bees to a honeypot, and
establishing themselves on each knee, proceeded to captivate him
by rifling his pockets, pulling his beard, and investigating his
watch, with juvenile audacity.  The women telegraphed their
approval to one another, and Mr. March, feeling that he had got
a kindred spirit, opened his choicest stores for his guest's
benefit, while silent John listened and enjoyed the talk, but
said not a word, and Mr. Laurence found it impossible to go to
sleep.

If Jo had not been otherwise engaged, Laurie's behavior
would have amused her, for a faint twinge, not of jealousy, but
something like suspicion, caused that gentleman to stand aloof
at first, and observe the newcomer with brotherly circumspection.
But it did not last long.  He got interested in spite of himself,
and before he knew it, was drawn into the circle.  For Mr. Bhaer
talked well in this genial atmosphere, and did himself justice.
He seldom spoke to Laurie, but he looked at him often, and a
shadow would pass across his face, as if regretting his own lost
youth, as he watched the young man in his prime.  Then his eyes
would turn to Jo so wistfully that she would have surely answered
the mute inquiry if she had seen it.  But Jo had her own eyes to
take care of, and feeling that they could not be trusted, she
prudently kept them on the little sock she was knitting, like a
model maiden aunt.

A stealthy glance now and then refreshed her like sips of
fresh water after a dusty walk, for the sidelong peeps showed
her several propitious omens.  Mr. Bhaer's face had lost the
absent-minded expression, and looked all alive with interest in
the present moment, actually young and handsome, she thought,
forgetting to compare him with Laurie, as she usually did strange
men, to their great detriment.  Then he seemed quite inspired,
though the burial customs of the ancients, to which the conversation
had strayed, might not be considered an exhilarating topic.
Jo quite glowed with triumph when Teddy got quenched in
an argument, and thought to herself, as she watched her father's
absorbed face, "How he would enjoy having such a man as my Professor
to talk with every day!"  Lastly, Mr. Bhaer was dressed
in a new suit of black, which made him look more like a gentleman
than ever.  His bushy hair had been cut and smoothly brushed, but
didn't stay in order long, for in exciting moments, he rumpled
it up in the droll way he used to do, and Jo liked it rampantly
erect better than flat, because she thought it gave his fine
forehead a Jove-like aspect.  Poor Jo, how she did glorify that
plain man, as she sat knitting away so quietly, yet letting
nothing escape her, not even the fact that Mr. Bhaer actually
had gold sleeve-buttons in his immaculate wristbands.

"Dear old fellow!  He couldn't have got himself up with more care if
he'd been going a-wooing," said Jo to herself, and then a sudden
thought born of the words made her blush so dreadfully that she had
to drop her ball, and go down after it to hide her face.

The maneuver did not succeed as well as she expected, however,
for though just in the act of setting fire to a funeral
pyre, the Professor dropped his torch, metaphorically speaking,
and made a dive after the little blue ball.  Of course they
bumped their heads smartly together, saw stars, and both came
up flushed and laughing, without the ball, to resume their seats,
wishing they had not left them.

Nobody knew where the evening went to, for Hannah skillfully
abstracted the babies at an early hour, nodding like two rosy
poppies, and Mr. Laurence went home to rest.  The others sat round
the fire, talking away, utterly regardless of the lapse of time,
till Meg, whose maternal mind was impressed with a firm conviction
that Daisy had tumbled out of bed, and Demi set his nightgown afire
studying the structure of matches, made a move to go.

"We must have our sing, in the good old way, for we are all
together again once more," said Jo, feeling that a good shout
would be a safe and pleasant vent for the jubilant emotions of
her soul.

They were not all there.  But no one found the words thougtless
or untrue, for Beth still seemed among them, a peaceful presence,
invisible, but dearer than ever, since death could not break
the household league that love made disoluble.  The little
chair stood in its old place.  The tidy basket, with the bit of
work she left unfinished when the needle grew 'so heavy', was
still on its accustomed shelf.  The beloved instrument, seldom
touched now had not been moved, and above it Beth's face, serene
and smiling, as in the early days, looked down upon them, seeming
to say, "Be happy.  I am here."

"Play something, Amy.  Let them hear how much you have improved,"
said Laurie, with pardonable pride in his promising pupil.

But Amy whispered, with full eyes, as she twirled the faded
stool, "Not tonight, dear.  I can't show off tonight."

But she did show something better than brilliancy or skill,
for she sang Beth's songs with a tender music in her voice which
the best master could not have taught, and touched the listener's
hearts with a sweeter power than any other inspiration could have
given her.  The room was very still, when the clear voice failed
suddenly at the last line of Beth's favorite hymn.  It was hard
to say . . .

    Earth hath no sorrow that heaven cannot heal;

and Amy leaned against her husband, who stood behind her, feeling
that her welcome home was not quite perfect without Beth's kiss.

"Now, we must finish with Mignon's song, for Mr. Bhaer sings
that," said Jo, before the pause grew painful.  And Mr. Bhaer
cleared his throat with a gratified "Hem!" as he stepped into the
corner where Jo stood, saying . . .

"You will sing with me?  We go excellently well together."

A pleasing fiction, by the way, for Jo had no more idea of music
than a grasshopper.  But she would have consented if he had proposed
to sing a whole opera, and warbled away, blissfully regardless of
time and tune.  It didn't much matter, for Mr. Bhaer sang like a true
German, heartily and well, and Jo soon subsided into a subdued hum,
that she might listen to the mellow voice that seemed to sing for
her alone.

    Know'st thou the land where the citron blooms,

used to be the Professor's favorite line, for 'das land' meant
Germany to him, but now he seemed to dwell, with peculiar warmth
and melody, upon the words . . .

    There, oh there, might I with thee,
    O, my beloved, go

and one listener was so thrilled by the tender invitation that she
longed to say she did know the land, and would joyfully depart
thither whenever he liked.

The song was considered a great success, and the singer retired
covered with laurels.  But a few minutes afterward, he forgot his
manners entirely, and stared at Amy putting on her bonnet, for she
had been introduced simply as 'my sister', and no one had called
her by her new name since he came.  He forgot himself still further
when Laurie said, in his most gracious manner, at parting . . .

"My wife and I are very glad to meet you, sir.  Please remember
that there is always a welcome waiting for you over the way."

Then the Professor thanked him so heartily, and looked so
suddenly illuminated with satisfaction, that Laurie thought him
the most delightfully demonstrative old fellow he ever met.

"I too shall go, but I shall gladly come again, if you will
gif me leave, dear madame, for a little business in the city will
keep me here some days."

He spoke to Mrs. March, but he looked at Jo, and the mother's
voice gave as cordial an assent as did the daughter's eyes, for
Mrs. March was not so blind to her children's interest as Mrs.
Moffat supposed.

"I suspect that is a wise man," remarked Mr. March, with
placid satisfaction, from the hearthrug, after the last guest had
gone.

"I know he is a good one," added Mrs. March, with decided
approval, as she wound up the clock.

"I thought you'd like him," was all Jo said, as she slipped
away to her bed.

She wondered what the business was that brought Mr. Bhaer to
the city, and finally decided that he had been appointed to some
great honor, somewhere, but had been too modest to mention the
fact.  If she had seen his face when, safe in his own room, he
looked at the picture of a severe and rigid young lady, with a
good deal of hair, who appeared to be gazing darkly into futurity,
it might have thrown some light upon the subject, especially when
he turned off the gas, and kissed the picture in the dark.



CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

MY LORD AND LADY

"Please, Madam Mother, could you lend me my wife for half
an hour?  The luggage has come, and I've been making hay of
Amy's Paris finery, trying to find some things I want," said
Laurie, coming in the next day to find Mrs. Laurence sitting
in her mother's lap, as if being made 'the baby' again.

"Certainly.  Go, dear, I forgot that you have any home but
this," and Mrs. March pressed the white hand that wore the wedding
ring, as if asking pardon for her maternal covetousness.

"I shouldn't have come over if I could have helped it, but
I can't get on without my little woman any more than a . . ."

"Weathercock can without the wind," suggested Jo, as he
paused for a simile.  Jo had grown quite her own saucy self
again since Teddy came home.

"Exactly, for Amy keeps me pointing due west most of the
time, with only an occasional whiffle round to the south, and
I haven't had an easterly spell since I was married.  Don't know
anything about the north, but am altogether salubrious and balmy,
hey, my lady?"

"Lovely weather so far.  I don't know how long it will last,
but I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my
ship.  Come home, dear, and I'll find your bootjack.  I suppose
that's what you are rummaging after among my things.  Men are so
helpless, Mother," said Amy, with a matronly air, which delighted
her husband.

"What are you going to do with yourselves after you get settled?"
asked Jo, buttoning Amy's cloak as she used to button her pinafores.

"We have our plans.  We don't mean to say much about them
yet, because we are such very new brooms, but we don't intend to
be idle.  I'm going into business with a devotion that shall delight
Grandfather, and prove to him that I'm not spoiled.  I need
something of the sort to keep me steady.  I'm tired of dawdling,
and mean to work like a man."

"And Amy, what is she going to do?" asked Mrs. March, well
pleased at Laurie's decision and the energy with which he spoke.

"After doing the civil all round, and airing our best bonnet,
we shall astonish you by the elegant hospitalities of our mansion,
the brilliant society we shall draw about us, and the beneficial
influence we shall exert over the world at large.  That's about
it, isn't it, Madame Recamier?" asked Laurie with a quizzical
look at Amy.

"Time will show.  Come away, Impertinence, and don't shock
my family by calling me names before their faces," answered Amy,
resolving that there should be a home with a good wife in it
before she set up a salon as a queen of society.

"How happy those children seem together!" observed Mr. March,
finding it difficult to become absorbed in his Aristotle after
the young couple had gone.

"Yes, and I think it will last," added Mrs. March, with the
restful expression of a pilot who has brought a ship safely into
port.

"I know it will.  Happy Amy!" and Jo sighed, then smiled
brightly as Professor Bhaer opened the gate with an impatient
push.

Later in the evening, when his mind had been set at rest
about the bootjack, Laurie said suddenly to his wife, "Mrs.
Laurence."

"My Lord!"

"That man intends to marry our Jo!"

"I hope so, don't you, dear?"

"Well, my love, I consider him a trump, in the fullest sense
of that expressive word, but I do wish he was a little younger
and a good deal richer."

"Now, Laurie, don't be too fastidious and worldly-minded.
If they love one another it doesn't matter a particle how old
they are nor how poor.  Women never should marry for money . . ."
Amy caught herself up short as the words escaped her, and looked
at her husband, who replied, with malicious gravity . . .

"Certainly not, though you do hear charming girls say that
they intend to do it sometimes.  If my memory serves me, you
once thought it your duty to make a rich match.  That accounts,
perhaps, for your marrying a good-for-nothing like me."

"Oh, my dearest boy, don't, don't say that!  I forgot you
were rich when I said 'Yes'.  I'd have married you if you hadn't
a penny, and I sometimes wish you were poor that I might show
how much I love you."  And Amy, who was very dignified in public
and very fond in private, gave convincing proofs of the truth of
her words.

"You don't really think I am such a mercenary creature as
I tried to be once, do you?  It would break my heart if you
didn't believe that I'd gladly pull in the same boat with you,
even if you had to get your living by rowing on the lake."

"Am I an idiot and a brute?  How could I think so, when
you refused a richer man for me, and won't let me give you half
I want to now, when I have the right?  Girls do it every day,
poor things, and are taught to think it is their only salvation,
but you had better lessons, and though I trembled for you at
one time, I was not disappointed, for the daughter was true to
the mother's teaching.  I told Mamma so yesterday, and she
looked as glad and grateful as if I'd given her a check for a
million, to be spent in charity.  You are not listening to my
moral remarks, Mrs. Laurence," and Laurie paused, for Amy's
eyes had an absent look, though fixed upon his face.

"Yes, I am, and admiring the mole in your chin at the
same time.  I don't wish to make you vain, but I must confess
that I'm prouder of my handsome husband than of all his money.
Don't laugh, but your nose is such a comfort to me," and Amy
softly caressed the well-cut feature with artistic satisfaction.

Laurie had received many compliments in his life, but never
one that suited him better, as he plainly showed though he did
laugh at his wife's peculiar taste, while she said slowly, "May
I ask you a question, dear?"

"Of course, you may."

"Shall you care if Jo does marry Mr. Bhaer?"

"Oh, that's the trouble is it?  I thought there was something
in the dimple that didn't quite suit you.  Not being a dog in the
manger, but the happiest fellow alive, I assure you I can dance
at Jo's wedding with a heart as light as my heels.  Do you doubt
it, my darling?"

Amy looked up at him, and was satisfied.  Her little jealous
fear vanished forever, and she thanked him, with a face full of
love and confidence.

"I wish we could do something for that capital old Professor.
Couldn't we invent a rich relation, who shall obligingly die out
there in Germany, and leave him a tidy little fortune?" said Laurie,
when they began to pace up and down the long drawing room, arm in
arm, as they were fond of doing, in memory of the chateau garden.

"Jo would find us out, and spoil it all.  She is very proud
of him, just as he is, and said yesterday that she thought poverty
was a beautiful thing."

"Bless her dear heart!  She won't think so when she has a
literary husband, and a dozen little professors and professorins
to support.  We won't interfere now, but watch our chance, and
do them a good turn in spite of themselves.  I owe Jo for a part
of my education, and she believes in people's paying their honest
debts, so I'll get round her in that way."

"How delightful it is to be able to help others, isn't it?
That was always one of my dreams, to have the power of giving
freely, and thanks to you, the dream has come true."

"Ah, we'll do quantities of good, won't we?  There's one
sort of poverty that I particularly like to help.  Out-and-out
beggars get taken care of, but poor gentle folks fare badly,
because they won't ask, and people don't dare to offer charity.
Yet there are a thousand ways of helping them, if one only
knows how to do it so delicately that it does not offend.  I
must say, I like to serve a decayed gentleman better than a
blarnerying beggar.  I suppose it's wrong, but I do, though it
is harder."

"Because it takes a gentleman to do it," added the other
member of the domestic admiration society.

"Thank you, I'm afraid I don't deserve that pretty compliment.
But I was going to say that while I was dawdling about abroad, I
saw a good many talented young fellows making all sorts of sacrifices,
and enduring real hardships, that they might realize their dreams.
Splendid fellows, some of them, working like heros,  poor
and friendless, but so full of courage, patience, and ambition
that I was ashamed of myself, and longed to give them a right
good lift.  Those are people whom it's a satisfaction to help,
for if they've got genius, it's an honor to be allowed to
serve them, and not let it be lost or delayed for want of fuel
to keep the pot boiling.  If they haven't, it's a pleasure to
comfort the poor souls, and keep them from despair when they find
it out."

"Yes, indeed, and there's another class who can't ask, and
who suffer in silence.  I know something of it, for I belonged to
it before you made a princess of me, as the king does the beggarmaid
in the old story.  Ambitious girls have a hard time, Laurie,
and often have to see youth, health, and precious opportunities
go by, just for want of a little help at the right minute.  People
have been very kind to me, and whenever I see girls struggling
along, as we used to do, I want to put out my hand and help them,
as I was helped."

"And so you shall, like an angel as you are!" cried Laurie,
resolving, with a glow of philanthropic zeal, to found and endow
an institution for the express benefit of young women with
artistic tendencies.  "Rich people have no right to sit down
and enjoy themselves, or let their money accumulate for others
to waste.  It's not half so sensible to leave legacies when one
dies as it is to use the money wisely while alive, and enjoy
making one's fellow creatures happy with it.  We'll have a good
time ourselves, and add an extra relish to our own pleasure by
giving other people a generous taste.  Will you be a little
Dorcas, going about emptying a big basket of comforts, and
filling it up with good deeds?"

"With all my heart, if you will be a brave St.  Martin,
stopping as you ride gallantly through the world to share your
cloak with the beggar."

"It's a bargain, and we shall get the best of it!"

So the young pair shook hands upon it, and then paced
happily on again, feeling that their pleasant home was more
homelike because they hoped to brighten other homes, believing
that their own feet would walk more uprightly along the flowery
path before them, if they smoothed rough ways for other feet,
and feeling that their hearts were more closely knit together
by a love which could tenderly remember those less blest than they.



CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

DAISY AND DEMI

I cannot feel that I have done my duty as humble historian
of the March family, without devoting at least one chapter to
the two most precious and important members of it.  Daisy and
Demi had now arrived at years of discretion, for in this fast
age babies of three or four assert their rights, and get them,
too, which is more than many of their elders do.  If there
ever were a pair of twins in danger of being utterly spoiled
by adoration, it was these prattling Brookes.  Of course they
were the most remarkable children ever born, as will be shown
when I mention that they walked at eight months, talked fluently
at twelve months, and at two years they took their places
at table, and behaved with a propriety which charmed all beholders.
At three, Daisy demanded a 'needler', and actually made
a bag with four stitches in it.  She likewise set up
housekeeping in the sideboard, and managed a microscopic cooking
stove with a skill that brought tears of pride to Hannah's
eyes, while Demi learned his letters with his grandfather, who
invented a new mode of teaching the alphabet by forming letters
with his arms and legs, thus uniting gymnastics for head and
heels.  The boy early developed a mechanical genius which delighted
his father and distracted his mother, for he tried to
imitate every machine he saw, and kept the nursery in a chaotic
condition, with his 'sewinsheen', a mysterious structure of
string, chairs, clothespins, and spools, for wheels to go
'wound and wound'.  Also a basket hung over the back of a chair,
in which he vainly tried to hoist his too confiding sister, who,
with feminine devotion, allowed her little head to be bumped till
rescued, when the young inventor indignantly remarked, "Why,
Marmar, dat's my lellywaiter, and me's trying to pull her up."

Though utterly unlike in character, the twins got on remarkably
well together, and seldom quarreled more than thrice
a day.  Of course, Demi tyrannized over Daisy, and gallantly
defended her from every other aggressor, while Daisy made a
galley slave of herself, and adored her brother as the one perfect
being in the world.  A rosy, chubby, sunshiny little soul
was Daisy, who found her way to everybody's heart, and nestled
there.  One of the captivating children, who seem made to be
kissed and cuddled, adorned and adored like little goddesses,
and produced for general approval on all festive occasions.
Her small virtues were so sweet that she would have been quite
angelic if a few small naughtinesses had not kept her delightfully
human.  It was all fair weather in her world, and every
morning she scrambled up to the window in her little nightgown
to look out, and say, no matter whether it rained or shone,
"Oh, pitty day, oh, pitty day!" Everyone was a friend, and she
offered kisses to a stranger so confidingly that the most inveterate
bachelor relented, and baby-lovers became faithful worshipers.

"Me loves evvybody," she once said, opening her arms, with
her spoon in one hand, and her mug in the other, as if eager to
embrace and nourish the whole world.

As she grew, her mother began to feel that the Dovecote
would be blessed by the presence of an inmate as serene and loving
as that which had helped to make the old house home, and to
pray that she might be spared a loss like that which had lately
taught them how long they had entertained an angel unawares.  Her
grandfather often called her 'Beth', and her grandmother watched
over her with untiring devotion, as if trying to atone for some
past mistake, which no eye but her own could see.

Demi, like a true Yankee, was of an inquiring turn, wanting
to know everything, and often getting much disturbed because he
could not get satisfactory answers to his perpetual "What for?"

He also possessed a philosophic bent, to the great delight of
his grandfather, who used to hold Socratic conversations with him,
in which the precocious pupil occasionally posed his teacher, to
the undisguised satisfaction of the womenfolk.

"What makes my legs go, Dranpa?" asked the young philosopher,
surveying those active portions of his frame with a meditative air,
while resting after a go-to-bed frolic one night.

"It's your little mind, Demi," replied the sage, stroking the
yellow head respectfully.

"What is a little mine?"

"It is something which makes your body move, as the spring
made the wheels go in my watch when I showed it to you."

"Open me.  I want to see it go wound."

"I can't do that any more than you could open the watch.  God
winds you up, and you go till He stops you."

"Does I?" and Demi's brown eyes grew big and bright as he
took in the new thought.  "Is I wounded up like the watch?"

"Yes, but I can't show you how, for it is done when we don't see."

Demi felt his back, as if expecting to find it like that of
the watch, and then gravely remarked, "I dess Dod does it when
I's asleep."

A careful explanation followed, to which he listened so attentively
that his anxious grandmother said, "My dear, do you think it wise
to talk about such things to that baby?  He's getting great bumps
over his eyes, and learning to ask the most unanswerable questions."

"If he is old enough to ask the question he is old enough to
receive true answers.  I am not putting the thoughts into his
head, but helping him unfold those already there.  These children
are wiser than we are, and I have no doubt the boy understands
every word I have said to him.  Now, Demi, tell me where you keep
your mind."

If the boy had replied like Alcibiades, "By the gods, Socrates,
I cannot tell," his grandfather would not have been surprised, but
when, after standing a moment on one leg, like a meditative young
stork, he answered, in a tone of calm conviction, "In my little
belly," the old gentleman could only join in Grandma's laugh, and
dismiss the class in metaphysics.

There might have been cause for maternal anxiety, if Demi had
not given convincing proofs that he was a true boy, as well as a
budding philosopher, for often, after a discussion which caused
Hannah to prophesy, with ominous nods, "That child ain't long for
this world," he would turn about and set her fears at rest by
some of the pranks with which dear, dirty, naughty little rascals
distract and delight their parent's souls.

Meg made many moral rules, and tried to keep them, but what
mother was ever proof against the winning wiles, the ingenious
evasions, or the tranquil audacity of the miniature men and women
who so early show themselves accomplished Artful Dodgers?

"No more raisins, Demi.  They'll make you sick," says Mamma
to the young person who offers his services in the kitchen with
unfailing regularity on plum-pudding day.

"Me likes to be sick."

"I don't want to have you, so run away and help Daisy make patty 
cakes."

He reluctantly departs, but his wrongs weigh upon his spirit,
and by-and-by when an opportunity comes to redress them, he outwits
Mamma by a shrewd bargain.

"Now you have been good children, and I'll play anything you
like," says Meg, as she leads her assistant cooks upstairs, when
the pudding is safely bouncing in the pot.

"Truly, Marmar?" asks Demi, with a brilliant idea in his
well-powdered head.

"Yes, truly.  Anything you say," replies the shortsighted parent,
preparing herself to sing, "The Three Little Kittens" half a dozen
times over, or to take her family to "Buy a penny bun," regardless
of wind or limb.  But Demi corners her by the cool reply . . .

"Then we'll go and eat up all the raisins."

Aunt Dodo was chief playmate and confidante of both children,
and the trio turned the little house topsy-turvy.  Aunt Amy was as
yet only a name to them, Aunt Beth soon faded into a pleasantly
vague memory, but Aunt Dodo was a living reality, and they made the
most of her, for which compliment she was deeply grateful.  But
when Mr. Bhaer came, Jo neglected her playfellows, and dismay and
desolation fell upon their little souls.  Daisy, who was fond of
going about peddling kisses, lost her best customer and became
bankrupt.  Demi, with infantile penetration, soon discovered that
Dodo like to play with 'the bear-man' better than she did him,
but though hurt, he concealed his anguish, for he hadn't the
heart to insult a rival who kept a mine of chocolate drops in
his waistcoat pocket, and a watch that could be taken out of its
case and freely shaken by ardent admirers.

Some persons might have considered these pleasing liberties
as bribes, but Demi didn't see it in that light, and continued to
patronize the 'the bear-man' with pensive affability, while Daisy
bestowed her small affections upon him at the third call, and
considered his shoulder her throne, his arm her refuge, his gifts
treasures surpassing worth.

Gentlemen are sometimes seized with sudden fits of admiration for
the young relatives of ladies whom they honor with their regard, but
this counterfeit philoprogenitiveness sits uneasily upon them, and
does not deceive anybody a particle.  Mr. Bhaer's devotion was
sincere, however likewise effective--for honesty is the best policy
in love as in law.  He was one of the men who are at home with
children, and looked particularly well when little faces made a
pleasant contrast with his manly one.  His business, whatever it was,
detained him from day to day, but evening seldom failed to bring him
out to see--well, he always asked for Mr. March, so I suppose he was
the attraction.  The excellent papa labored under the delusion that
he was, and reveled in long discussions with the kindred spirit,
till a chance remark of his more observing grandson suddenly
enlightened him.

Mr. Bhaer came in one evening to pause on the threshold of the
study, astonished by the spectacle that met his eye.  Prone upon
the floor lay Mr. March, with his respectable legs in the air, and
beside him, likewise prone, was Demi, trying to imitate the attitude
with his own short, scarlet-stockinged legs, both grovelers
so seriously absorbed that they were unconscious of spectators,
till Mr. Bhaer laughed his sonorous laugh, and Jo cried out, with
a scandalized face . . .

"Father, Father, here's the Professor!"

Down went the black legs and up came the gray head, as the
preceptor said, with undisturbed dignity, "Good evening, Mr. Bhaer.
Excuse me for a moment.  We are just finishing our lesson.  Now, Demi,
make the letter and tell its name."

"I knows him!" and, after a few convulsive efforts, the red
legs took the shape of a pair of compasses, and the intelligent
pupil triumphantly shouted, "It's a We, Dranpa, it's a We!"

"He's a born Weller," laughed Jo, as her parent gathered himself
up, and her nephew tried to stand on his head, as the only
mode of expressing his satisfaction that school was over.

"What have you been at today, bubchen?" asked Mr. Bhaer,
picking up the gymnast.

"Me went to see little Mary."

"And what did you there?"

"I kissed her," began Demi, with artless frankness.

"Prut!  Thou beginnest early.  What did the little Mary say
to that?" asked Mr. Bhaer, continuing to confess the young sinner,
who stood upon the knee, exploring the waistcoat pocket.

"Oh, she liked it, and she kissed me, and I liked it.  Don't
little boys like little girls?" asked Demi, with his mouth full,
and an air of bland satisfaction.

"You precocious chick!  Who put that into your head?" said Jo,
enjoying the innocent revelation as much as the Professor.

"'Tisn't in mine head, it's in mine mouf," answered literal
Demi, putting out his tongue, with a chocolate drop on it, thinking
she alluded to confectionery, not ideas.

"Thou shouldst save some for the little friend.  Sweets to
the sweet, mannling," and Mr. Bhaer offered Jo some, with a look
that made her wonder if chocolate was not the nectar drunk by the
gods.  Demi also saw the smile, was impressed by it, and artlessy
inquired.  ..

"Do great boys like great girls, to, 'Fessor?"

Like young Washington, Mr. Bhaer 'couldn't tell a lie', so
he gave the somewhat vague reply that he believed they did sometimes,
in a tone that made Mr. March put down his clothesbrush,
glance at Jo's retiring face, and then sink into his chair, looking
as if the 'precocious chick' had put an idea into his head
that was both sweet and sour.

Why Dodo, when she caught him in the china closet half an
hour afterward, nearly squeezed the breath out of his little body
with a tender embrace, instead of shaking him for being there,
and why she followed up this novel performance by the unexpected
gift of a big slice of bread and jelly, remained one of the problems
over which Demi puzzled his small wits, and was forced to
leave unsolved forever.



CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

UNDER THE UNBRELLA

While Laurie and Amy were taking conjugal strolls over velvet
carpets, as they set their house in order, and planned a blissful
future, Mr. Bhaer and Jo were enjoying promenades of a different
sort, along muddy roads and sodden fields.

"I always do take a walk toward evening, and I don't know
why I should give it up, just because I happen to meet the Professor
on his way out," said Jo to herself, after two or three
encounters, for though there were two paths to Meg's whichever
one she took she was sure to meet him, either going or returning.
He was always walking rapidly, and never seemed to see her
until quite close, when he would look as if his short-sighted
eyes had failed to recognize the approaching lady till that
moment.  Then, if she was going to Meg's he always had something
for the babies.  If her face was turned homeward, he had merely
strolled down to see the river, and was just returning, unless
they were tired of his frequent calls.

Under the circumstances, what could Jo do but greet him
civilly, and invite him in?  If she was tired of his visits, she
concealed her weariness with perfect skill, and took care that
there should be coffee for supper, "as Friedrich--I mean Mr.
Bhaer--doesn't like tea."

By the second week, everyone knew perfectly well what was
going on, yet everyone tried to look as if they were stone-blind
to the changes in Jo's face.  They never asked why she sang about
her work, did up her hair three times a day, and got so blooming
with her evening exercise.  And no one seemed to have the slightest
suspicion that Professor Bhaer, while talking philosophy with
the father, was giving the daughter lessons in love.

Jo couldn't even lose her heart in a decorous manner, but
sternly tried to quench her feelings, and failing to do so, led
a somewhat agitated life.  She was mortally afraid of being laughed
at for surrendering, after her many and vehement declarations of
independence.  Laurie was her especial dread, but thanks to the
new manager, he behaved with praiseworthy propriety, never called
Mr. Bhaer 'a capital old fellow' in public, never alluded, in the
remotest manner, to Jo's improved appearance, or expressed the
least surprise at seeing the Professor's hat on the Marches' table
nearly every evening.  But he exulted in private and longed for
the time to come when he could give Jo a piece of plate, with a
bear and a ragged staff on it as an appropriate coat of arms.

For a fortnight, the Professor came and went with lover-like
regularity.  Then he stayed away for three whole days, and made
no sign, a proceeding which caused everybody to look sober, and
Jo to become pensive, at first, and then--alas for romance--very
cross.

"Disgusted, I dare say, and gone home as suddenly as he came.
It's nothing to me, of course, but I should think he would have
come and bid us goodbye like a gentleman," she said to herself,
with a despairing look at the gate, as she put on her things for
the customary walk one dull afternoon.

"You'd better take the little umbrella, dear.  It looks like
rain," said her mother, observing that she had on her new bonnet,
but not alluding to the fact.

"Yes, Marmee, do you want anything in town?  I've got to
run in and get some paper," returned Jo, pulling out the bow
under her chin before the glass as an excuse for not looking at
her mother.

"Yes, I want some twilled silesia, a paper of number nine
needles, and two yards of narrow lavender ribbon.  Have you got
your thick boots on, and something warm under your cloak?"

"I believe so," answered Jo absently.

"If you happen to meet Mr. Bhaer, bring him home to tea.
I quite long to see the dear man," added Mrs. March.

Jo heard that, but made no answer, except to kiss her mother,
and walk rapidly away, thinking with a glow of gratitude, in spite
of her heartache, "How good she is to me! What do girls do who
haven't any mothers to help them through their troubles?"

The dry-goods stores were not down among the counting-houses,
banks, and wholesale warerooms, where gentlemen most do congregate,
but Jo found herself in that part of the city before she did a
single errand, loitering along as if waiting for someone, examining
engineering instruments in one window and samples of wool in
another, with most unfeminine interest, tumbling over barrels,
being half-smothered by descending bales, and hustled unceremoniously
by busy men who looked as if they wondered 'how the deuce
she got there'.  A drop of rain on her cheek recalled her thoughts
from baffled hopes to ruined ribbons.  For the drops continued to
fall, and being a woman as well as a lover, she felt that, though
it was too late to save her heart, she might her bonnet.  Now she
remembered the little umbrella, which she had forgotten to take
in her hurry to be off, but regret was unavailing, and nothing
could be done but borrow one or submit to a drenching.  She
looked up at the lowering sky, down at the crimson bow already
flecked with black, forward along the muddy street, then one
long, lingering look behind, at a certain grimy warehouse, with
'Hoffmann, Swartz, & Co.' over the door, and said to herself,
with a sternly reproachful air . . .

"It serves me right! what business had I to put on all my
best things and come philandering down here, hoping to see the
Professor?  Jo, I'm ashamed of you!  No, you shall not go there
to borrow an umbrella, or find out where he is, from his friends.
You shall trudge away, and do your errands in the rain, and if
you catch your death and ruin your bonnet, it's no more than
you deserve.  Now then!"

With that she rushed across the street so impetuously that she
narrowly escaped annihilation from a passing truck, and precipitated
herself into the arms of a stately old gentleman, who said,
"I beg pardon, ma'am," and looked mortally offended.  Somewhat
daunted, Jo righted herself, spread her handkerchief over
the devoted ribbons, and putting temptation behind her, hurried on,
with increasing dampness about the ankles, and much clashing of
umbrellas overhead.  The fact that a somewhat dilapidated blue
one remained stationary above the unprotected bonnet attracted
her attention, and looking up, she saw Mr. Bhaer looking down.

"I feel to know the strong-minded lady who goes so bravely
under many horse noses, and so fast through much mud.  What do
you down here, my friend?"

"I'm shopping."

Mr. Bhaer smiled, as he glanced from the pickle factory on
one side to the wholesale hide and leather concern on the other,
but he only said politely, "You haf no umbrella.  May I go also,
and take for you the bundles?"

"Yes, thank you."

Jo's cheeks were as red as her ribbon, and she wondered what
he thought of her, but she didn't care, for in a minute she found
herself walking away arm in arm with her Professor, feeling as if
the sun had suddenly burst out with uncommon brilliancy, that
the world was all right again, and that one thoroughly happy woman
was paddling through the wet that day.

"We thought you had gone," said Jo hastily, for she knew he
was looking at her.  Her bonnet wasn't big enough to hide her face,
and she feared he might think the joy it betrayed unmaidenly.

"Did you believe that I should go with no farewell to those
who haf been so heavenly kind to me?" he asked so reproachfully
that she felt as if she had insulted him by the suggestion, and
answered heartily . . .

"No, I didn't.  I knew you were busy about your own affairs,
but we rather missed you, Father and Mother especially."

"And you?"

"I'm always glad to see you, sir."

In her anxiety to keep her voice quite calm, Jo made it rather
cool, and the frosty little monosyllable at the end seemed to chill
the Professor, for his smile vanished, as he said gravely . . .

"I thank you, and come one more time before I go."

"You are going, then?"

"I haf no longer any business here, it is done."

"Successfully, I hope?" said Jo, for the bitterness of disappointment
was in that short reply of his.

"I ought to think so, for I haf a way opened to me by which
I can make my bread and gif my Junglings much help."

"Tell me, please!  I like to know all about the--the boys,"
said Jo eagerly.

"That is so kind, I gladly tell you.  My friends find for me
a place in a college, where I teach as at home, and earn enough
to make the way smooth for Franz and Emil.  For this I should be
grateful, should I not?"

"Indeed you should.  How splendid it will be to have you
doing what you like, and be able to see you often, and the boys!"
cried Jo, clinging to the lads as an excuse for the satisfaction
she could not help betraying.

"Ah!  But we shall not meet often, I fear, this place is at
the West."

"So far away!" and Jo left her skirts to their fate, as if
it didn't matter now what became of her clothes or herself.

Mr. Bhaer could read several languages, but he had not learned to
read women yet.  He flattered himself that he knew Jo pretty well,
and was, therefore, much amazed by the contradictions of voice,
face, and manner, which she showed him in rapid succession that day,
for she was in half a dozen different moods in the course of half an
hour.  When she met him she looked surprised, though it was
impossible to help suspecting that she had come for that express
purpose.  When he offered her his arm, she took it with a look that
filled him with delight, but when he asked if she missed him, she
gave such a chilly, formal reply that despair fell upon him.  On
learning his good fortune she almost clapped her hands.  Was the joy
all for the boys? Then on hearing his destination, she said, "So far
away!" in a tone of despair that lifted him on to a pinnacle of
hope, but the next minute she tumbled him down again by observing,
like one entirely absorbed in the matter . . .

"Here's the place for my errands.  Will you come in? It
won't take long."

Jo rather prided herself upon her shopping capabilities,
and particularly wished to impress her escort with the neatness
and dispatch with which she would accomplish the business.
But owing to the flutter she was in, everything went amiss.
She upset the tray of needles, forgot the silesia was to be
'twilled' till it was cut off, gave the wrong change, and
covered herself with confusion by asking for lavender ribbon
at the calico counter.  Mr. Bhaer stood by, watching her blush
and blunder, and as he watched, his own bewilderment seemed to
subside, for he was beginning to see that on some occasions,
women, like dreams, go by contraries.

When they came out, he put the parcel under his arm with
a more cheerful aspect, and splashed through the puddles as if
he rather enjoyed it on the whole.

"Should we no do a little what you call shopping for the
babies, and haf a farewell feast tonight if I go for my last
call at your so pleasant home?" he asked, stopping before a
window full of fruit and flowers.

"What will we buy?" asked Jo, ignoring the latter part of
his speech, and sniffing the mingled odors with an affectation
of delight as they went in.

"May they haf oranges and figs?" asked Mr. Bhaer, with a
paternal air.

"They eat them when they can get them."

"Do you care for nuts?"

"Like a squirrel."

"Hamburg grapes.  Yes, we shall drink to the Fatherland in
those?"

Jo frowned upon that piece of extravagance, and asked why
he didn't buy a frail of dates, a cask of raisins, and a bag of
almonds, and be done with it?  Whereat Mr. Bhaer confiscated her
purse, produced his own, and finished the marketing by buying
several pounds of grapes, a pot of rosy daisies, and a pretty
jar of honey, to be regarded in the light of a demijohn.  Then
distorting his pockets with knobby bundles, and giving her the
flowers to hold, he put up the old umbrella, and they traveled
on again.

"Miss Marsch, I haf a great favor to ask of you," began the
Professor, after a moist promenade of half a block.

"Yes, sir?" and Jo's heart began to beat so hard she was
afraid he would hear it.

"I am bold to say it in spite of the rain, because so short
a time remains to me."

"Yes, sir," and Jo nearly crushed the small flowerpot with
the sudden squeeze she gave it.

"I wish to get a little dress for my Tina, and I am too stupid
to go alone.  Will you kindly gif me a word of taste and help?"

"Yes, sir," and Jo felt as calm and cool all of a sudden as if
she had stepped into a refrigerator.

"Perhaps also a shawl for Tina's mother, she is so poor and sick,
and the husband is such a care.  Yes, yes, a thick, warm shawl
would be a friendly thing to take the little mother."

"I'll do it with pleasure, Mr. Bhaer."  "I'm going very fast,
and he's getting dearer every minute," added Jo to herself, then
with a mental shake she entered into the business with an energy
that was pleasant to behold.

Mr. Bhaer left it all to her, so she chose a pretty gown for
Tina, and then ordered out the shawls.  The clerk, being a married
man, condescended to take an interest in the couple, who appeared
to be shopping for their family.

"Your lady may prefer this.  It's a superior article, a most
desirable color, quite chaste and genteel," he said, shaking out
a comfortable gray shawl, and throwing it over Jo's shoulders.

"Does this suit you, Mr. Bhaer?" she asked, turning her
back to him, and feeling deeply grateful for the chance of hiding
her face.

"Excellently well, we will haf it," answered the Professor,
smiling to himself as he paid for it, while Jo continued to
rummage the counters like a confirmed bargain-hunter.

"Now shall we go home?" he asked, as if the words were
very pleasant to him.

"Yes, it's late, and I'm _so_ tired." Jo's voice was more
pathetic than she knew.  For now the sun seemed to have gone
in as suddenly as it came out, and the world grew muddy and
miserable again, and for the first time she discovered that her
feet were cold, her head ached, and that her heart was colder
than the former, fuller of pain than the latter.  Mr. Bhaer
was going away, he only cared for her as a friend, it was all
a mistake, and the sooner it was over the better.  With this
idea in her head, she hailed an approaching omnibus with such
a hasty gesture that the daisies flew out of the pot and were
badly damaged.

"This is not our omniboos," said the Professor, waving the
loaded vehicle away, and stopping to pick up the poor little
flowers.

"I beg your pardon.  I didn't see the name distinctly.  Never
mind, I can walk.  I'm used to plodding in the mud," returned Jo,
winking hard, because she would have died rather than openly
wipe her eyes.

Mr. Bhaer saw the drops on her cheeks, though she turned her
head away.  The sight seemed to touch him very much, for suddenly
stooping down, he asked in a tone that meant a great deal, "Heart's
dearest, why do you cry?"

Now, if Jo had not been new to this sort of thing she would
have said she wasn't crying, had a cold in her head, or told
any other feminine fib proper to the occasion.  Instead of which,
that undignified creature answered, with an irrepressible sob,
"Because you are going away."

"Ach, mein Gott, that is so good!" cried Mr. Bhaer, managing
to clasp his hands in spite of the umbrella and the bundles,
"Jo, I haf nothing but much love to gif you.  I came to see if
you could care for it, and I waited to be sure that I was something
more than a friend.  Am I?  Can you make a little place in your
heart for old Fritz?" he added, all in one breath.

"Oh, yes!" said Jo, and he was quite satisfied, for she
folded both hands over his arm, and looked up at him with an
expression that plainly showed how happy she would be to walk
through life beside him, even though she had no better shelter
than the old umbrella, if he carried it.

It was certainly proposing under difficulties, for even if
he had desired to do so, Mr. Bhaer could not go down upon his
knees, on account of the mud.  Neither could he offer Jo his
hand, except figuratively, for both were full.  Much less could
he indulge in tender remonstrations in the open street, though
he was near it.  So the only way in which he could express his
rapture was to look at her, with an expression which glorified
his face to such a degree that there actually seemed to be
little rainbows in the drops that sparkled on his beard.  If
he had not loved Jo very much, I don't think he could have done
it then, for she looked far from lovely, with her skirts in a
deplorable state, her rubber boots splashed to the ankle, and
her bonnet a ruin.  Fortunately, Mr. Bhaer considered her the
most beautiful woman living, and she found him more "Jove-like"
than ever, though his hatbrim was quite limp with the little
rills trickling thence upon his shoulders (for he held the
umbrella all over Jo), and every finger of his gloves needed
mending.

Passers-by probably thought them a pair of harmless lunatics,
for they entirely forgot to hail a bus, and strolled
leisurely along, oblivious of deepening dusk and fog.  Little
they cared what anybody thought, for they were enjoying the
happy hour that seldom comes but once in any life, the magical
moment which bestows youth on the old, beauty on the plain,
wealth on the poor, and gives human hearts a foretaste of heaven.
The Professor looked as if he had conquered a kingdom, and the
world had nothing more to offer him in the way of bliss.  While
Jo trudged beside him, feeling as if her place had always been
there, and wondering how she ever could have chosen any other
lot.  Of course, she was the first to speak--intelligibly, I
mean, for the emotional remarks which followed her impetuous
"Oh, yes!" were not of a coherent or reportable character.

"Friedrich, why didn't you . . ."

"Ah, heaven, she gifs me the name that no one speaks since
Minna died!" cried the Professor, pausing in a puddle to regard
her with grateful delight.

"I always call you so to myself--I forgot, but I won't unless
you like it."

"Like it?  It is more sweet to me than I can tell.  Say 'thou',
also, and I shall say your language is almost as beautiful as mine."

"Isn't 'thou' a little sentimental?" asked Jo, privately thinking
it a lovely monosyllable.

"Sentimental? Yes.  Thank Gott, we Germans believe in sentiment,
and keep ourselves young mit it.  Your English 'you' is so cold, say
'thou', heart's dearest, it means so much to me," pleaded Mr. Bhaer,
more like a romantic student than a grave professor.

"Well, then, why didn't thou tell me all this sooner?" asked
Jo bashfully.

"Now I shall haf to show thee all my heart, and I so gladly
will, because thou must take care of it hereafter.  See, then, my
Jo--ah, the dear, funny little name--I had a wish to tell something
the day I said goodbye in New York, but I thought the handsome
friend was betrothed to thee, and so I spoke not.  Wouldst thou
have said 'Yes', then, if I had spoken?"

"I don't know.  I'm afraid not, for I didn't have any heart just then."

"Prut!  That I do not believe.  It was asleep till the fairy prince
came through the wood, and waked it up.  Ah, well, 'Die erste Liebe
ist die beste', but that I should not expect."

"Yes, the first love is the best, but be so contented, for I
never had another.  Teddy was only a boy, and soon got over his
little fancy," said Jo, anxious to correct the Professor's mistake.

"Good!  Then I shall rest happy, and be sure that thou givest
me all.  I haf waited so long, I am grown selfish, as thou wilt
find, Professorin."

"I like that," cried Jo, delighted with her new name.  "Now
tell me what brought you, at last, just when I wanted you?"

"This," and Mr. Bhaer took a little worn paper out of his
waistcoat pocket.

Jo unfolded it, and looked much abashed, for it was one of
her own contributions to a paper that paid for poetry, which
accounted for her sending it an occasional attempt.

"How could that bring you?" she asked, wondering what he
meant.

"I found it by chance.  I knew it by the names and the
initials, and in it there was one little verse that seemed to
call me.  Read and find him.  I will see that you go not in
the wet."


    IN THE GARRET

    Four little chests all in a row,
    Dim with dust, and worn by time,
    All fashioned and filled, long ago,
    By children now in their prime.
    Four little keys hung side by side,
    With faded ribbons, brave and gay
    When fastened there, with childish pride,
    Long ago, on a rainy day.
    Four little names, one on each lid,
    Carved out by a boyish hand,
    And underneath there lieth hid
    Histories of the happy band
    Once playing here, and pausing oft
    To hear the sweet refrain,
    That came and went on the roof aloft,
    In the falling summer rain.

    "Meg" on the first lid, smooth and fair.
    I look in with loving eyes,
    For folded here, with well-known care,
    A goodly gathering lies,
    The record of a peaceful life--
    Gifts to gentle child and girl,
    A bridal gown, lines to a wife,
    A tiny shoe, a baby curl.
    No toys in this first chest remain,
    For all are carried away,
    In their old age, to join again
    In another small Meg's play.
    Ah, happy mother!  Well I know
    You hear, like a sweet refrain,
    Lullabies ever soft and low
    In the falling summer rain.

    "Jo" on the next lid, scratched and worn,
    And within a motley store
    Of headless dolls, of schoolbooks torn,
    Birds and beasts that speak no more,
    Spoils brought home from the fairy ground
    Only trod by youthful feet,
    Dreams of a future never found,
    Memories of a past still sweet,
    Half-writ poems, stories wild,
    April letters, warm and cold,
    Diaries of a wilful child,
    Hints of a woman early old,
    A woman in a lonely home,
    Hearing, like a sad refrain--
    "Be worthy, love, and love will come,"
    In the falling summer rain.

    My Beth!  the dust is always swept
    From the lid that bears your name,
    As if by loving eyes that wept,
    By careful hands that often came.
    Death canonized for us one saint,
    Ever less human than divine,
    And still we lay, with tender plaint,
    Relics in this household shrine--
    The silver bell, so seldom rung,
    The little cap which last she wore,
    The fair, dead Catherine that hung
    By angels borne above her door.
    The songs she sang, without lament,
    In her prison-house of pain,
    Forever are they sweetly blent
    With the falling summer rain.

    Upon the last lid's polished field--
    Legend now both fair and true
    A gallant knight bears on his shield,
    "Amy" in letters gold and blue.
    Within lie snoods that bound her hair,
    Slippers that have danced their last,
    Faded flowers laid by with care,
    Fans whose airy toils are past,
    Gay valentines, all ardent flames,
    Trifles that have borne their part
    In girlish hopes and fears and shames,
    The record of a maiden heart
    Now learning fairer, truer spells,
    Hearing, like a blithe refrain,
    The silver sound of bridal bells
    In the falling summer rain.

    Four little chests all in a row,
    Dim with dust, and worn by time,
    Four women, taught by weal and woe
    To love and labor in their prime.
    Four sisters, parted for an hour,
    None lost, one only gone before,
    Made by love's immortal power,
    Nearest and dearest evermore.
    Oh, when these hidden stores of ours
    Lie open to the Father's sight,
    May they be rich in golden hours,
    Deeds that show fairer for the light,
    Lives whose brave music long shall ring,
    Like a spirit-stirring strain,
    Souls that shall gladly soar and sing
    In the long sunshine after rain.

"It's very bad poetry, but I felt it when I wrote it, one day
when I was very lonely, and had a good cry on a rag bag.  I never
thought it would go where it could tell tales," said Jo, tearing
up the verses the Professor had treasured so long.

"Let it go, it has done its duty, and I will haf a fresh one
when I read all the brown book in which she keeps her little
secrets," said Mr. Bhaer with a smile as he watched the fragments
fly away on the wind.  "Yes," he added earnestly, "I read that,
and I think to myself, She has a sorrow, she is lonely, she would
find comfort in true love.  I haf a heart full, full for her.  Shall
I not go and say, 'If this is not too poor a thing to gif for what
I shall hope to receive, take it in Gott's name?'"

"And so you came to find that it was not too poor, but the one
precious thing I needed," whispered Jo.

"I had no courage to think that at first, heavenly kind as was
your welcome to me.  But soon I began to hope, and then I said,
'I will haf her if I die for it,' and so I will!" cried Mr. Bhaer,
with a defiant nod, as if the walls of mist closing round them were
barriers which he was to surmount or valiantly knock down.

Jo thought that was splendid, and resolved to be worthy of her knight,
though he did not come prancing on a charger in gorgeous array.

"What made you stay away so long?" she asked presently, finding
it so pleasant to ask confidential questions and get delightful
answers that she could not keep silent.

"It was not easy, but I could not find the heart to take you
from that so happy home until I could haf a prospect of one to
gif you, after much time, perhaps, and hard work.  How could I ask
you to gif up so much for a poor old fellow, who has no fortune
but a little learning?"

"I'm glad you are poor.  I couldn't bear a rich husband,"
said Jo decidedly, adding in a softer tone, "Don't fear poverty.
I've known it long enough to lose my dread and be happy working
for those I love, and don't call yourself old--forty is the prime
of life.  I couldn't help loving you if you were seventy!"

The Professor found that so touching that he would have been
glad of his handkerchief, if he could have got at it.  As he
couldn't, Jo wiped his eyes for him, and said, laughing, as she
took away a bundle or two . . .

"I may be strong-minded, but no one can say I'm out of my
sphere now, for woman's special mission is supposed to be drying
tears and bearing burdens.  I'm to carry my share, Friedrich,
and help to earn the home.  Make up your mind to that, or I'll
never go," she added resolutely, as he tried to reclaim his load.

"We shall see.  Haf you patience to wait a long time, Jo?
I must go away and do my work alone.  I must help my boys first,
because, even for you, I may not break my word to Minna.  Can
you forgif that, and be happy while we hope and wait?"

"Yes, I know I can, for we love one another, and that makes
all the rest easy to bear.  I have my duty, also, and my work.
I couldn't enjoy myself if I neglected them even for you, so
there's no need of hurry or impatience.  You can do your part
out West, I can do mine here, and both be happy hoping for the
best, and leaving the future to be as God wills."

"Ah! Thou gifest me such hope and courage, and I haf nothing
to gif back but a full heart and these empty hands," cried the
Professor, quite overcome.

Jo never, never would learn to be proper, for when he said
that as they stood upon the steps, she just put both hands into
his, whispering tenderly, "Not empty now," and stooping down,
kissed her Friedrich under the umbrella.  It was dreadful, but
she would have done it if the flock of draggle-tailed sparrows
on the hedge had been human beings, for she was very far gone
indeed, and quite regardless of everything but her own happiness.
Though it came in such a very simple guise, that was the crowning
moment of both their lives, when, turning from the night and
storm and loneliness to the household light and warmth and peace
waiting to receive them, with a glad "Welcome home!"  Jo led her
lover in, and shut the door.



CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

HARVEST TIME

For a year Jo and her Professor worked and waited, hoped
and loved, met occasionally, and wrote such voluminous letters
that the rise in the price of paper was accounted for, Laurie
said.  The second year began rather soberly, for their prospects
did not brighten, and Aunt March died suddenly.  But when their
first sorrow was over--for they loved the old lady in spite
of her sharp tongue--they found they had cause for rejoicing,
for she had left Plumfield to Jo, which made all sorts of joyful
things possible.

"It's a fine old place, and will bring a handsome sum, for
of course you intend to sell it," said Laurie, as they were all
talking the matter over some weeks later.

"No, I don't," was Jo's decided answer, as she petted the
fat poodle, whom she had adopted, out of respect to his former
mistress.

"You don't mean to live there?"

"Yes, I do."

"But, my dear girl, it's an immense house, and will take a
power of money to keep it in order.  The garden and orchard alone
need two or three men, and farming isn't in Bhaer's line, I take
it."

"He'll try his hand at it there, if I propose it."

"And you expect to live on the produce of the place?  Well,
that sounds paradisiacal, but you'll find it desperate hard work."

"The crop we are going to raise is a profitable one," and
Jo laughed.

"Of what is this fine crop to consist, ma'am?"

"Boys.  I want to open a school for little lads--a good,
happy, homelike school, with me to take care of them and Fritz
to teach them."

"That's a truly Joian plan for you!  Isn't that just like
her?" cried Laurie, appealing to the family, who looked as much
surprised as he.

"I like it," said Mrs. March decidedly.

"So do I," added her husband, who welcomed the thought of
a chance for trying the Socratic method of education on modern
youth.

"It will be an immense care for Jo," said Meg, stroking
the head of her one all-absorbing son.

"Jo can do it, and be happy in it.  It's a splendid idea.
Tell us all about it," cried Mr. Laurence, who had been longing
to lend the lovers a hand, but knew that they would refuse his
help.

"I knew you'd stand by me, sir.  Amy does too--I see it in
her eyes, though she prudently waits to turn it over in her mind
before she speaks.  Now, my dear people," continued Jo earnestly,
"just understand that this isn't a new idea of mine, but a long
cherished plan.  Before my Fritz came, I used to think how, when
I'd made my fortune, and no one needed me at home, I'd hire a
big house, and pick up some poor, forlorn little lads who hadn't
any mothers, and take care of them, and make life jolly for them
before it was too late.  I see so many going to ruin for want of
help at the right minute, I love so to do anything for them, I
seem to feel their wants, and sympathize with their troubles, and
oh, I should so like to be a mother to them!"

Mrs. March held out her hand to Jo, who took it, smiling,
with tears in her eyes, and went on in the old enthusiastic way,
which they had not seen for a long while.

"I told my plan to Fritz once, and he said it was just what
he would like, and agreed to try it when we got rich.  Bless his
dear heart, he's been doing it all his life--helping poor boys, I
mean, not getting rich, that he'll never be.  Money doesn't stay
in his pocket long enough to lay up any.  But now, thanks to my
good old aunt, who loved me better than I ever deserved, I'm rich,
at least I feel so, and we can live at Plumfield perfectly well,
if we have a flourishing school.  It's just the place for boys,
the house is big, and the furniture strong and plain.  There's
plenty of room for dozens inside, and splendid grounds outside.
They could help in the garden and orchard.  Such work is healthy,
isn't it, sir?  Then Fritz could train and teach in his own way,
and Father will help him.  I can feed and nurse and pet and scold
them, and Mother will be my stand-by.  I've always longed for lots
of boys, and never had enough, now I can fill the house full and
revel in the little dears to my heart's content.  Think what luxury--
Plumfield my own, and a wilderness of boys to enjoy it with me."

As Jo waved her hands and gave a sigh of rapture, the family
went off into a gale of merriment, and Mr. Laurence laughed till
they thought he'd have an apoplectic fit.

"I don't see anything funny," she said gravely, when she
could be heard.  "Nothing could be more natural and proper than
for my Professor to open a school, and for me to prefer to reside
in my own estate."

"She is putting on airs already," said Laurie, who regarded
the idea in the light of a capital joke.  "But may I inquire how
you intend to support the establishment? If all the pupils are
little ragamuffins, I'm afraid your crop won't be profitable in
a worldly sense, Mrs. Bhaer."

"Now don't be a wet-blanket, Teddy.  Of course I shall have rich
pupils, also--perhaps begin with such altogether.  Then, when I've
got a start, I can take in a ragamuffin or two, just for a relish.
Rich people's children often need care and comfort, as well as poor.
I've seen unfortunate little creatures left to servants, or backward
ones pushed forward, when it's real cruelty.  Some are naughty
through mismanagment or neglect, and some lose their mothers.
Besides, the best have to get through the hobbledehoy age, and
that's the very time they need most patience and kindness.  People
laugh at them, and hustle them about, try to keep them out of sight,
and expect them to turn all at once from pretty children into fine
young men.  They don't complain much--plucky little souls--but they
feel it.  I've been through something of it, and I know all about it.
I've a special interest in such young bears, and like to show them
that I see the warm, honest, well-meaning boys' hearts, in spite of
the clumsy arms and legs and the topsy-turvy heads.  I've had
experience, too, for haven't I brought up one boy to be a pride and
honor to his family?"

"I'll testify that you tried to do it," said Laurie with a grateful 
look.

"And I've succeeded beyond my hopes, for here you are, a
steady, sensible businessman, doing heaps of good with your
money, and laying up the blessings of the poor, instead of dollars.
But you are not merely a businessman, you love good and beautiful
things, enjoy them yourself, and let others go halves, as you
always did in the old times.  I am proud of you, Teddy, for you
get better every year, and everyone feels it, though you won't
let them say so.  Yes, and when I have my flock, I'll just point
to you, and say 'There's your model, my lads'."

Poor Laurie didn't know where to look, for, man though he
was, something of the old bashfulness came over him as this burst
of praise made all faces turn approvingly upon him.

"I say, Jo, that's rather too much," he began, just in his
old boyish way.  "You have all done more for me than I can ever
thank you for, except by doing my best not to disappoint you.  You
have rather cast me off lately, Jo, but I've had the best of help,
nevertheless.  So, if I've got on at all, you may thank these two
for it," and he laid one hand gently on his grandfather's head,
and the other on Amy's golden one, for the three were never far
apart.

"I do think that families are the most beautiful things in
all the world!" burst out Jo, who was in an unusually up-lifted
frame of mind just then.  "When I have one of my own, I hope it
will be as happy as the three I know and love the best.  If John
and my Fritz were only here, it would be quite a little heaven
on earth," she added more quietly.  And that night when she went
to her room after a blissful evening of family counsels, hopes,
and plans, her heart was so full of happiness that she could only
calm it by kneeling beside the empty bed always near her own, and
thinking tender thoughts of Beth.

It was a very astonishing year altogether, for things seemed
to happen in an unusually rapid and delightful manner.  Almost
before she knew where she was, Jo found herself married and settled
at Plumfield.  Then a family of six or seven boys sprung up
like mushrooms, and flourished surprisingly, poor boys as well as
rich, for Mr. Laurence was continually finding some touching case
of destitution, and begging the Bhaers to take pity on the child,
and he would gladly pay a trifle for its support.  In this way,
the sly old gentleman got round proud Jo, and furnished her with
the style of boy in which she most delighted.

Of course it was uphill work at first, and Jo made queer
mistakes, but the wise Professor steered her safely into calmer
waters, and the most rampant ragamuffin was conquered in the end.
How Jo did enjoy her 'wilderness of boys', and how poor, dear
Aunt March would have lamented had she been there to see the
sacred precincts of prim, well-ordered Plumfield overrun with
Toms, Dicks, and Harrys!  There was a sort of poetic justice
about it, after all, for the old lady had been the terror of the boys
for miles around, and now the exiles feasted freely on forbidden
plums, kicked up the gravel with profane boots unreproved,
and played cricket in the big field where the irritable
'cow with a crumpled horn' used to invite rash youths to come and
be tossed.  It became a sort of boys' paradise, and Laurie suggested
that it should be called the 'Bhaer-garten', as a compliment
to its master and appropriate to its inhabitants.

It never was a fashionable school, and the Professor did not
lay up a fortune, but it was just what Jo intended it to be--
'a happy, homelike place for boys, who needed teaching, care, and
kindness'.  Every room in the big house was soon full.  Every
little plot in the garden soon had its owner.  A regular menagerie
appeared in barn and shed, for pet animals were allowed.
And three times a day, Jo smiled at her Fritz from the head of
a long table lined on either side with rows of happy young faces,
which all turned to her with affectionate eyes, confiding words,
and grateful hearts, full of love for 'Mother Bhaer'.  She had
boys enough now, and did not tire of them, though they were not
angels, by any means, and some of them caused both Professor and
Professorin much trouble and anxiety.  But her faith in the good
spot which exists in the heart of the naughtiest, sauciest, most
tantalizing little ragamuffin gave her patience, skill, and in
time success, for no mortal boy could hold out long with Father
Bhaer shining on him as benevolently as the sun, and Mother Bhaer
forgiving him seventy times seven.  Very precious to Jo was the
friendship of the lads, their penitent sniffs and whispers after
wrongdoing, their droll or touching little confidences, their
pleasant enthusiasms, hopes, and plans, even their misfortunes,
for they only endeared them to her all the more.  There were slow
boys and bashful boys, feeble boys and riotous boys, boys that
lisped and boys that stuttered, one or two lame ones, and a
merry little quadroon, who could not be taken in elsewhere, but
who was welcome to the 'Bhaer-garten', though some people predicted
that his admission would ruin the school.

Yes, Jo was a very happy woman there, in spite of hard work,
much anxiety, and a perpetual racket.  She enjoyed it heartily and
found the applause of her boys more satisfying than any praise of
the world, for now she told no stories except to her flock of
enthusiastic believers and admirers.  As the years went on, two
little lads of her own came to increase her happiness--Rob,
named for Grandpa, and Teddy, a happy-go-lucky baby, who seemed
to have inherited his papa's sunshiny temper as well as his
mother's lively spirit.  How they ever grew up alive in that
whirlpool of boys was a mystery to their grandma and aunts, but
they flourished like dandelions in spring, and their rough
nurses loved and served them well.

There were a great many holidays at Plumfield, and one of
the most delightful was the yearly apple-picking.  For then the
Marches, Laurences, Brookes and Bhaers turned out in full force
and made a day of it.  Five years after Jo's wedding, one of these
fruitful festivals occurred, a mellow October day, when the air
was full of an exhilarating freshness which made the spirits rise
and the blood dance healthily in the veins.  The old orchard wore
its holiday attire.  Goldenrod and asters fringed the mossy walls.
Grasshoppers skipped briskly in the sere grass, and crickets chirped
like fairy pipers at a feast.  Squirrels were busy with their
small harvesting.  Birds twittered their adieux from the alders
in the lane, and every tree stood ready to send down its shower
of red or yellow apples at the first shake.  Everybody was there.
Everybody laughed and sang, climbed up and tumbled down.  Everybody
declared that there never had been such a perfect day or such
a jolly set to enjoy it, and everyone gave themselves up to
the simple pleasures of the hour as freely as if there were no
such things as care or sorrow in the world.

Mr. March strolled placidly about, quoting Tusser, Cowley,
and Columella to Mr. Laurence, while enjoying . . .

The gentle apple's winey juice.

The Professor charged up and down the green aisles like a stout
Teutonic knight, with a pole for a lance, leading on the boys,
who made a hook and ladder company of themselves, and performed
wonders in the way of ground and lofty tumbling.  Laurie devoted
himself to the little ones, rode his small daughter in a bushel-basket,
took Daisy up among the bird's nests, and kept adventurous
Rob from breaking his neck.  Mrs. March and Meg sat among
the apple piles like a pair of Pomonas, sorting the contributions
that kept pouring in, while Amy with a beautiful motherly expression
in her face sketched the various groups, and watched over one
pale lad, who sat adoring her with his little crutch beside him.

Jo was in her element that day, and rushed about, with her
gown pinned up, and her hat anywhere but on her head, and her
baby tucked under her arm, ready for any lively adventure which
might turn up.  Little Teddy bore a charmed life, for nothing
ever happened to him, and Jo never felt any anxiety when he was
whisked up into a tree by one lad, galloped off on the back of
another, or supplied with sour russets by his indulgent papa,
who labored under the Germanic delusion that babies could digest
anything, from pickled cabbage to buttons, nails, and their own
small shoes.  She knew that little Ted would turn up again in
time, safe and rosy, dirty and serene, and she always received
him back with a hearty welcome, for Jo loved her babies tenderly.

At four o'clock a lull took place, and baskets remained
empty, while the apple pickers rested and compared rents and
bruises.  Then Jo and Meg, with a detachment of the bigger boys,
set forth the supper on the grass, for an out-of-door tea was
always the crowning joy of the day.  The land literally flowed
with milk and honey on such occasions, for the lads were not
required to sit at table, but allowed to partake of refreshment
as they liked--freedom being the sauce best beloved by the boyish
soul.  They availed themselves of the rare privilege to the
fullest extent, for some tried the pleasing experiment of drinking
milk while standing on their heads, others lent a charm to
leapfrog by eating pie in the pauses of the game, cookies were
sown broadcast over the field, and apple turnovers roosted in
the trees like a new style of bird.  The little girls had a
private tea party, and Ted roved among the edibles at his own
sweet will.

When no one could eat any more, the Professor proposed the
first regular toast, which was always drunk at such times--"Aunt
March, God bless her!"  A toast heartily given by the good man,
who never forgot how much he owed her, and quietly drunk by the
boys, who had been taught to keep her memory green.

"Now, Grandma's sixtieth birthday!  Long life to her, with
three times three!"

That was given with a will, as you may well believe, and
the cheering once begun, it was hard to stop it.  Everybody's
health was proposed, from Mr. Laurence, who was considered their
special patron, to the astonished guinea pig, who had strayed
from its proper sphere in search of its young master.  Demi, as
the oldest grandchild, then presented the queen of the day with
various gifts, so numerous that they were transported to the
festive scene in a wheelbarrow.  Funny presents, some of them,
but what would have been defects to other eyes were ornaments
to Grandma's--for the children's gifts were all their own.  Every
stitch Daisy's patient little fingers had put into the handkerchiefs
she hemmed was better than embroidery to Mrs. March.  Demi's
miracle of mechanical skill, though the cover wouldn't shut, Rob's
footstool had a wiggle in its uneven legs that she declared was
soothing, and no page of the costly book Amy's child gave her was
so fair as that on which appeared in tipsy capitals, the words--
"To dear Grandma, from her little Beth."

During the ceremony the boys had mysteriously disappeared,
and when Mrs. March had tried to thank her children, and broken
down, while Teddy wiped her eyes on his pinafore, the Professor
suddenly began to sing.  Then, from above him, voice after voice
took up the words, and from tree to tree echoed the music of the
unseen choir, as the boys sang with all their hearts the little
song that Jo had written, Laurie set to music, and the Professor
trained his lads to give with the best effect.  This was something
altogether new, and it proved a grand success, for Mrs. March
couldn't get over her surprise, and insisted on shaking hands
with every one of the featherless birds, from tall Franz and
Emil to the little quadroon, who had the sweetest voice of all.

After this, the boys dispersed for a final lark, leaving Mrs.
March and her daughters under the festival tree.

"I don't think I ever ought to call myself 'unlucky Jo' again,
when my greatest wish has been so beautifully gratified," said Mrs.
Bhaer, taking Teddy's little fist out of the milk pitcher, in which
he was rapturously churning.

"And yet your life is very different from the one you pictured
so long ago.  Do you remember our castles in the air?" asked Amy,
smiling as she watched Laurie and John playing cricket with the boys.

"Dear fellows!  It does my heart good to see them forget business
and frolic for a day," answered Jo, who now spoke in a maternal
way of all mankind.  "Yes, I remember, but the life I wanted then
seems selfish, lonely, and cold to me now.  I haven't given up the
hope that I may write a good book yet, but I can wait, and I'm
sure it will be all the better for such experiences and illustrations
as these," and Jo pointed from the lively lads in the
distance to her father, leaning on the Professor's arm, as they
walked to and fro in the sunshine, deep in one of the conversations
which both enjoyed so much, and then to her mother, sitting enthroned
among her daughters, with their children in her lap and at
her feet, as if all found help and happiness in the face which
never could grow old to them.

"My castle was the most nearly realized of all.  I asked for
splendid things, to be sure, but in my heart I knew I should be
satisfied, if I had a little home, and John, and some dear children
like these.  I've got them all, thank God, and am the
happiest woman in the world," and Meg laid her hand on her tall
boy's head, with a face full of tender and devout content.

"My castle is very different from what I planned, but I would
not alter it, though, like Jo, I don't relinquish all my artistic
hopes, or confine myself to helping others fulfill their dreams of
beauty.  I've begun to model a figure of baby, and Laurie says it
is the best thing I've ever done.  I think so, myself, and mean
to do it in marble, so that, whatever happens, I may at least keep
the image of my little angel."

As Amy spoke, a great tear dropped on the golden hair of the
sleeping child in her arms, for her one well-beloved daughter was
a frail little creature and the dread of losing her was the shadow
over Amy's sunshine.  This cross was doing much for both father
and mother, for one love and sorrow bound them closely together.
Amy's nature was growing sweeter, deeper, and more tender.  Laurie
was growing more serious, strong, and firm, and both were learning
that beauty, youth, good fortune, even love itself, cannot keep
care and pain, loss and sorrow, from the most blessed for  . . .


    Into each life some rain must fall,
    Some days must be dark and sad and dreary.


"She is growing better, I am sure of it, my dear.  Don't
despond, but hope and keep happy," said Mrs. March, as tenderhearted
Daisy stooped from her knee to lay her rosy cheek against
her little cousin's pale one.

"I never ought to, while I have you to cheer me up, Marmee,
and Laurie to take more than half of every burden," replied Amy
warmly.  "He never lets me see his anxiety, but is so sweet and
patient with me, so devoted to Beth, and such a stay and comfort
to me always that I can't love him enough.  So, in spite of my
one cross, I can say with Meg, 'Thank God, I'm a happy woman.'"

"There's no need for me to say it, for everyone can see
that I'm far happier than I deserve," added Jo, glancing from
her good husband to her chubby children, tumbling on the grass
beside her.  "Fritz is getting gray and stout.  I'm growing as
thin as a shadow, and am thirty.  We never shall be rich, and
Plumfield may burn up any night, for that incorrigible Tommy
Bangs will smoke sweet-fern cigars under the bed-clothes,
though he's set himself afire three times already.  But in
spite of these unromantic facts, I have nothing to complain
of, and never was so jolly in my life.  Excuse the remark, but
living among boys, I can't help using their expressions now
and then."

"Yes, Jo, I think your harvest will be a good one," began
Mrs. March, frightening away a big black cricket that was
staring Teddy out of countenance.

"Not half so good as yours, Mother.  Here it is, and we
never can thank you enough for the patient sowing and reaping
you have done," cried Jo, with the loving impetuosity which
she never would outgrow.

"I hope there will be more wheat and fewer tares every
year," said Amy softly.

"A large sheaf, but I know there's room in your heart for
it, Marmee dear," added Meg's tender voice.

Touched to the heart, Mrs. March could only stretch out
her arms, as if to gather children and grandchildren to herself,
and say, with face and voice full of motherly love, gratitude,
and humility . . .

"Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never can
wish you a greater happiness than this!"












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