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,
or thought she did,
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.
I wish you'd go and see the Hummels.
You know Mother told us not to forget them."
ten days after Mrs. March's departure.
"I'm too tired to go this afternoon,"
rocking comfortably as she sewed.
"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',"
but looking a little ashamed of her inconsistency.
"Why don't you go yourself?"
"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,
the air will do you good,"
"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,"
"Amy will be in presently,
and she will run down for us,"
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.
What's the matter?"
as Beth put out her hand as if to warn her off,
and asked quickly ...
"You've had the scarlet fever,
when Meg did.
"Then I'll tell you.
the baby's dead!"
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,"
taking her sister in her arms as she sat down in her mother's big chair,
with a remorseful face.
"It wasn't dreadful,
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."
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.
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."
hugging her close,
with a frightened look.
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,
and queer feelings like mine,
so I did take some belladonna,
and I feel better,"
laying her cold hands on her hot forehead and trying to look well.
"If Mother was only at home!"
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,
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?"
"I guess not.
Don't care if I do.
Serve me right,
to let you go,
and stay writing rubbish myself!"
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,
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,"
when she had examined and questioned Beth,
"we will have Dr. Bangs,
just to take a look at you,
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,
looking anxious and self-reproachful.
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,
There ain't no need of but one,"
And Beth leaned her head against her sister with a contented look,
which effectually settled that point.
"I'll go and tell Amy,"
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.
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,
as he knit his brows in deep thought.
Presently he sat down beside her,
in his most wheedlesome tone,
"Now be a sensible little woman,
and do as they say.
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,"
in an injured voice.
"Bless your heart,
it's to keep you well.
You don't want to be sick,
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,
"But it's dull at Aunt March's,
and she is so cross,"
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,
"A dozen theaters,
if we may."
"Well --I guess I will,"
said Amy slowly.
and tell her you'll give in,"
with an approving pat,
which annoyed Amy more than the
Meg and Jo came running down to behold the miracle which had been wrought,
feeling very precious and self-sacrificing,
promised to go,
if the doctor said Beth was going to be ill.
"How is the little dear?"
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,"
"What a trying world it is!"
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."
don't make a porcupine of yourself,
it isn't becoming.
Settle your wig,
and tell me if I shall telegraph to your mother,
or do anything?"
who never had been reconciled to the loss of his friend's one beauty.
"That is what troubles me,"
"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."
I can't say.
Suppose you ask Grandfather after the doctor has been."
go and get Dr. Bangs at once,"
"We can't decide anything till he has been."
"Stay where you are,
I'm errand boy to this establishment,"
taking up his cap.
"I'm afraid you are busy,"
I've done my lessons for the day."
"Do you study in vacation time?"
"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,"
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?"
looking sharply over her spectacles,
while the parrot,
sitting on the back of her chair,
called out ...
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.
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,"
trying to keep sober.
that won't last long,
March never had any stamina,"
was the cheerful reply.
Never say die,
take a pinch of snuff,
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!
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!"
tumbling off the chair with a bounce,
and running to peck the
who was shaking with laughter at the last speech.
"I don't think I can bear it,
but I'll try,"
as she was left alone with Aunt March.
and at that rude speech Amy could not restrain a sniff.
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,
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,
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,
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,
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.
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,
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,
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,"
tugging at her rubber boots with a tragic expression.
"Good for you,
Did you do it on your own responsibility?"
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."
it's not so bad as that?"
with a startled face.
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,
Hold on to me,
She could not speak,
but she did
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.
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,
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.
It does seem as if all the troubles came in a heap,
and I got the heaviest part on my shoulders,"
spreading her wet handkerchief over her knees to dry.
"Doesn't Meg pull fair?"
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.
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.
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,"
but she stopped crying,
for her friend's words cheered her up in spite of her own doubts and fears.
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,
and such a comfortable friend.
How can I ever pay you?"
as the wine refreshed her body,
as the kind words had done her troubled mind.
"I'll send my bill,
and tonight I'll give you something that will warm the cockles of your heart better than quarts of wine,"
beaming at her with a face of suppressed satisfaction at something.
"What is it?"
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,
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.
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,
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,"
as he settled his tie.
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 ...
if anything happened,
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
so that settled my mind,
and I did it.
Your mother will come,
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."
you're an angel!
How shall I ever thank you?"
"Fly at me again.
I rather liked it,"
a thing he had not done for a fortnight.
I'll do it by proxy,
when your grandpa comes.
but go home and rest,
for you'll be up half the night.
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,
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,"
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,
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,
with lips so parched they could hardly shape the word.
All day Jo and Meg hovered over her,
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,
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.
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,"
with equal fervor.
"I wish I had no heart,
it aches so,"
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.
still no one came,
and anxious fears of delay in the storm,
or accidents by the way,
worst of all,
a great grief at Washington,
haunted the girls.
It was past two,
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,
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,
throwing her apron over her head,
sat down to rock to and fro,
under her breath,
"The fever's turned,
she's sleepin' nat'ral,
her skin's damp,
and she breathes easy.
Praise be given!
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,
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,
for both crept into the dark hall,
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!"
as the winter night began to wane.
coming up with a white,
"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,"
smiling to herself,
as she stood behind the curtain,
watching the dazzling sight.
starting to her feet.
there was a sound of bells at the door below,
a cry from Hannah,
and then Laurie's voice saying in a joyful whisper,
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,
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,
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.
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,
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,
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
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,
and secret places,
in which were kept all sorts of ornaments,
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?"
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,"
looking with great admiration at a string of gold and ebony beads from which hung a heavy cross of the same.
but not as a necklace.
To me it is a rosary,
and as such I should use it like a good catholic,"
eyeing the handsome thing wistfully.
"Is it meant to use as you use the string of good-smelling wooden beads hanging over your glass?"
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,
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?"
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,"
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.
But I wish she'd let us have them now.
Procrastination is not agreeable,"
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?
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,
she borrowed it,
well knowing that Madame would never know it,
nor care if she did.
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.
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,
she decided to make her will,
as Aunt March had done,
so that if she did fall ill and die,
her possessions might be justly and generously divided.
It cost her a pang even to think of giving up the little treasures which in her eyes were as precious as the old lady's jewels.
During one of her play hours she wrote out the important document as well as she could,
with some help from Esther as to certain legal terms,
and when the good-natured Frenchwoman had signed her name,
Amy felt relieved and laid it by to show Laurie,
whom she wanted as a second witness.
As it was a rainy day,
she went upstairs to amuse herself in one of the large chambers,
and took Polly with her for company.
In this room there was a wardrobe full of old-fashioned costumes with which Esther allowed her to play,
and it was her favorite amusement to array herself in the faded brocades,
and parade up and down before the long mirror,
making stately curtsies,
and sweeping her train about with a rustle which delighted her ears.
So busy was she on this day that she did not hear Laurie's ring nor see his face peeping in at her as she gravely promenaded to and fro,
flirting her fan and tossing her head,
on which she wore a great pink turban,
contrasting oddly with her blue brocade dress and yellow quilted petticoat.
She was obliged to walk carefully,
for she had on high-heeled shoes,
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?
Hold your tongue!
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,"
when she had shown her splendor and driven Polly into a corner.
"That bird is the trial of my life,"
removing the pink mountain from her head,
while Laurie seated himself astride a chair.
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,
in his funny way,
with a cock of his eye,
'Come out and take a walk,
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?"
out it came,
and away ran Polly,
frightened to death,
and scrambled up on Aunt's chair,
as I chased the spider."
"That's a lie!
cried the parrot,
pecking at Laurie's toes.
"I'd wring your neck if you were mine,
you old torment,"
shaking his fist at the bird,
who put his head on one side and gravely croaked,
bless your buttons,
"Now I'm ready,"
shutting the wardrobe and taking a piece of paper out of her pocket.
"I want you to read that,
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
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,
and works of art,
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
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 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,
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.
To this will and testiment I set my hand and seal on this 20th day of Nov.
Anni Domino 1861.
Amy Curtis March
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,
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,
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,
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.
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,
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.
'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,
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,
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
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,
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,
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,
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."
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,
"They are very pretty,
but I think you're rather too young for such ornaments,
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,"
"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,
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?"
but I have more faith in the corner of the big closet.
Wear your ring,
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,
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,
asked Mrs. March,
holding out her hand,
with a face which invited confidence.
"I want to tell you something,
"How quickly you guessed!
it's about her,
and though it's a little thing,
it fidgets me."
"Beth is asleep.
and tell me all about it.
That Moffat hasn't been here,
asked Mrs. March rather sharply.
"No. I should have shut the door in his face if he had,"
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.
isn't it a dreadful state of things?"
"Do you think Meg cares for him?"
asked Mrs. March,
with an anxious look.
I don't know anything about love and such nonsense!"
with a funny mixture of interest and contempt.
the girls show it by starting and blushing,
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?"
I call him
We fell into the way of doing so at the hospital,
and he likes it."
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.
To go petting Papa and helping you,
just to wheedle you into liking him."
And Jo pulled her hair again with a wrathful tweak.
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,
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.
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,
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,
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,
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.
tender hearted girl!
I hope things will go happily with her."
"Hadn't you rather have her marry a rich man?"
as her mother's voice faltered a little over the last words.
"Money is a good and useful thing,
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,
I should accept them gratefully,
and enjoy your good fortune,
but I know,
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."
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?"
looking up with a brighter face.
"He is younger than she,
began Mrs. March,
but Jo broke in ...
"Only a little,
he's old for his age,
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,
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."
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?"
as she crept into the room with the finished letter in her hand.
"Only one of my stupid speeches.
I'm going to bed.
unfolding herself like an animated puzzle.
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
with her innocent eyes looking down into her mother's.
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.
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."
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,
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,
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.
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,
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,
and mopes in corners.
I caught her singing that song he gave her,
and once she said
as you do,
and then turned as red as a poppy.
Whatever shall we do?"
looking ready for any measures,
"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,
all sealed up.
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.
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.
how could you do it?"
and Meg hid her face in her hands,
crying as if her heart were quite broken.
I've done nothing!
What's she talking about?"
Meg's mild eyes kindled with anger as she pulled a crumpled note from her pocket and threw it at Jo,
"You wrote it,
and that bad boy helped you.
How could you be so rude,
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,
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."
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,"
burning to execute immediate justice.
But her mother held her back,
with a look she seldom wore ...
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,
I never saw that note before,
and don't know anything about it,
as true as I live!"
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,"
scornfully tossing down the paper.
"It's like his writing,"
comparing it with the note in her hand.
you didn't answer it?"
cried Mrs. March quickly.
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.
Let me handle this,
for it is worse than I thought.
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,"
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.
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,
with a laugh,
"You are almost equal to Caroline Percy,
who was a pattern of prudence!
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,
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,
"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,
Tell it to Mother and keep out of trouble,
as I should have done,"
said Meg warningly.
Mother told me."
"That will do,
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.
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,
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,
and I'll do anything to show how out-and-out sorry I am,"
looking very much ashamed of himself.
but it was a very ungentlemanly thing to do,
I didn't think you could be so sly and malicious,
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,
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,
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?"
of a housemaid,
who was coming downstairs.
but I don't believe he's seeable just yet."
Is he ill?"
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.
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,
who knew how to manage him,
assumed a contrite expression,
and going artistically down upon her knees,
"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.
and don't be a goose,
was the cavalier reply to her petition.
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?"
If it had been anyone else I'd have ..."
And the injured youth finished his sentence by an energetic gesture of the right arm.
I often shake you,
and you don't mind,"
said Jo soothingly.
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?"
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,
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,
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!"
"How do you mean to settle this affair?"
he ought to beg pardon,
and believe me when I say I can't tell him what the fuss's about."
He won't do that."
"I won't go down till he does."
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,
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."
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,"
forgetting her part of mentor in lively visions of martial life at the capital.
You go and surprise your father,
and I'll stir up old Brooke.
It would be a glorious joke.
Let's do it,
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,
it's a crazy plan."
"That's the fun of it,"
who had got a willful fit on him and was possessed to break out of bounds in some way.
"Hold your tongue!"
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.
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.
but you won't do it,"
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,"
as she walked away,
leaving Laurie bent over a railroad map with his head propped up on both hands.
and Mr. Laurence's gruff voice sounded gruffer than ever,
as Jo tapped at his door.
"It's only me,
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.
I like old Sam so well,
I think I'll try the second volume,"
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,
and be punished.
Out with it,
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.
I cannot tell.
Mother forbade it.
Laurie has confessed,
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.
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.
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,"
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,
was the sharp answer.
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,
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.
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,"
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,
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,
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,
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.
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,
"You're a sly puss,
but I don't mind being managed by you and Beth.
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,
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,
with his most virtuous expression of countenance,
"What a good fellow you are,
Did you get blown up?"
he was pretty mild,
on the whole."
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,
"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.
'label' on my
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,
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.
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
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,
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.
'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,
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,
By Raphael No. 2,
Who laboured with great industry To make it fair and true.
Accept a ribbon red,
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.
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,"
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,"
slapping the pocket wherein reposed the long-desired _Undine and Sintram_.
"I'm sure I am,"
poring over the engraved copy of the Madonna and Child,
which her mother had given her in a pretty frame.
"Of course I am!"
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,
"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.
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,
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,
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,
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,
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,
"For my mind was that flustered,
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,
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?"
breaking a short pause which had followed a long conversation about many things.
"Rather a pleasant year on the whole!"
smiling at the fire,
and congratulating herself on having treated Mr. Brooke with dignity.
"I think it's been a pretty hard one,"
watching the light shine on her ring with thoughtful eyes.
"I'm glad it's over,
because we've got you back,"
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?"
Straws show which way the wind blows,
and I've made several discoveries today."
tell us what they are!"
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.
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,
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,
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.
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,
with her cheek against his own,
"I've got you safe,
and I'll keep you so,
After a minute's silence,
he looked down at Amy,
who sat on the cricket at his feet,
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,
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,"
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."
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,
Contentment still I crave,
Because Thou savest such.
Fulness to them a burden is,
That go on pilgrimage.
and hereafter bliss,
Is best from age to age!
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,
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,
started when the bell rang,
and colored when John's name was mentioned.
"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?"
laughing and trying to look unconscious.
"He's showing you how your John will go on by-and-by.
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,
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."
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,"
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,
"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,
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,"
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,"
rudely shortening her sister's little reverie.
I should merely say,
quite calmly and decidedly,
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.'"
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."
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.
I came to get my umbrella,
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,
"Mother will like to see you.
Pray sit down,
I'll call her."
Are you afraid of me,
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.
I'd rather not,"
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,
I love you so much,
added Mr. Brooke tenderly.
This was the moment for the calm,
but Meg didn't make it.
She forgot every word of it,
hung her head,
"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,"
wondering why she was so fluttered,
yet rather enjoying it.
and in the meantime,
you could be learning to like me.
Would it be a very hard lesson,
"Not if I chose to learn it,
"Please choose to learn,
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,
withdrawing her hands,
"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.
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,
I didn't think that of you."
"Don't think of me at all.
I'd rather you wouldn't,"
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,
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.
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!"
feeling that she was in for a lecture now.
returned Aunt March,
"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,"
wishing that Mr. Brooke and the umbrella were safely out of the house.
That boy's tutor?
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,
cried Aunt March,
Shan't I call Mother?"
I've something to say to you,
and I must free my mind at once.
do you mean to marry this Cook?
If you do,
not one penny of my money ever goes to you.
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,
and you can leave your money to anyone you like,"
nodding her head with a resolute air.
Is that the way you take my advice,
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,"
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,
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."
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,
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,
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,
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,
"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,"
looking prettier than ever in her earnestness.
"He knows you have got rich relations,
That's the secret of his liking,
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.
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.
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,
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,"
"And I needn't go away,
but may stay and be happy,
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,
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,
as Jo called him,
actually laughed and said coolly,
as he kissed the astonished newcomer,
That was adding insult to injury,
it was altogether too much,
and making some wild demonstration with her hands,
Jo vanished without a word.
she startled the invalids by exclaiming tragically as she burst into the room,
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,
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,
trying to decide how she would group the lovers in a sketch she was planning to make.
I'm sure I can't.
How much has happened since I said that!
It seems a year ago,"
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,
"Hope the next will end better,"
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?"
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,"
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,"
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,
what's the matter?"
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,"
"You've got me,
I'm not good for much,
but I'll stand by you,
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,
gratefully shaking hands.
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.
Don't you wish you could take a look forward and see where we shall all be then?
"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,
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,
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 ...
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,
rich in the wisdom that is better than learning,
the charity which calls all mankind
the piety that blossoms into character,
making it august and lovely.
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,
'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,
for to him the busy,
anxious women always turned in troublous times,
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,
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,
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,
and busy with the quiet duties she loved,
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
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.
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,
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,
but not least by any means,
the knowledge that four innocent girls loved,
and believed in him with all their hearts.
'a glorious human boy',
of course he frolicked and flirted,
as college fashions ordained,
hazed and was hazed,
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,
or the irresistible power of persuasion which he possessed in perfection.
he rather prided himself on his narrow escapes,
and liked to thrill the girls with graphic accounts of his triumphs over wrathful tutors,
and vanquished enemies.
'men of my class',
were heroes in the eyes of the girls,
who never wearied of the exploits of
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,
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
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,
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.
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,
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,
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,
and happy hopes than that in which Jo and her mother put away Meg's few boxes,
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
Brooke came home'.
I also doubt if any young matron ever began life with so rich a supply of dusters,
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,
and ingenious article for the young housekeeper.
Now a bag of remarkable clothespins,
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
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.
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,"
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,"
"If Meg had four,
the house wouldn't hold them,
and master and missis would have to camp in the garden,"
broke in Jo,
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,
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,"
"I did after a while,
'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,
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,
should know how work ought to be done,
if she wishes to be well and honestly served."
I'm sure of that,"
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,"
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.
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.
was ordered to buy,
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,
And Meg looked quite contented,
as well she might.
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,
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,
with a motherly kiss.
"For Mrs. John Brooke,
with the maker's congratulations and compliments.
What a refreshing spectacle you are,
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,
"Which side won the last match,
who persisted in feeling an interest in manly sports despite her nineteen years.
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,
eying the knobby parcel with curiosity.
"It's a useful thing to have in the house in case of fire or thieves,"
as a watchman's rattle appeared,
amid the laughter of the girls.
"Any time when John is away and you get frightened,
just swing that out of the front window,
and it will rouse the neighborhood in a jiffy.
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,
said Meg in a matronly tone.
"I'm doing my best,
but can't get much higher,
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,"
"Beth and I are going over to Kitty Bryant's to get more flowers for tomorrow,"
tying a picturesque hat over her picturesque curls,
and enjoying the effect as much as anybody.
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,"
as Jo bestowed his especial aversion in her capacious pocket and offered her arm to support his feeble steps.
I want to talk seriously to you about tomorrow,"
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,
cut in Laurie,
with suggestive laugh.
"Don't be a peacock.
I only moaned a trifle to keep the girls company."
how is Grandpa this week?
have you got into a scrape and want to know how he'll take it?"
asked Jo rather sharply.
do you think I'd look your mother in the face and say
if it wasn't?"
and Laurie stopped short,
with an injured air.
"Then don't go and be suspicious.
I only want some money,"
walking on again,
appeased by her hearty tone.
"You spend a great deal,
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.
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,
"Of course not,
but I don't see the use of your having seventeen waistcoats,
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,
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,"
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,
I think that little Parker is really getting desperate about Amy.
He talks of her constantly,
and moons about in a most suspicious manner.
He'd better nip his little passion in the bud,
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,
You are a mere infant,
but you'll go next,
and we'll be left lamenting,"
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,"
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,
you'll go next."
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,
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.
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,
'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,"
surveying her with delight when all was done.
"Then I am satisfied.
But please hug and kiss me,
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,
and more quiet than ever.
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,
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,
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,
"I'm not a show,
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.
here's your hammer."
And away went Meg to help
'that man' in his highly improper employment.
Mr. Brooke didn't even say,
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.
and a laugh from Laurie,
accompanied by the indecorous exclamation,
Jo's upset the cake again!"
caused a momentary flurry,
which was hardly over when a flock of cousins arrived,
'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,"
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,
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,
but the minute she was fairly married,
"The first kiss for Marmee!"
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,
adorned with a headdress fearfully and wonderfully made,
fell upon her in the hall,
crying with a sob and a chuckle,
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,
and coffee were found to be to only sorts of nectar which the three Hebes carried round.
No one said anything,
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?"
"or am I merely laboring under a delusion that I saw some lying about loose this morning?"
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,
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,
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,
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,
"But you will,
for the sake of others,
if not for your own.
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,
"I thank you,
"And I drink
'long life to your resolution',
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.
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!"
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,
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,
see that you deserve it."
"That is the prettiest wedding I've been to for an age,
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.
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,
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
as tenderly as if she had been going to make the grand tour.
"Don't feel that I am separated from you,
or that I love you any the less for loving John so much,"
clinging to her mother,
with full eyes for a moment.
"I shall come every day,
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.
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.
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
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,
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,
oily brown shadows of faces with a lurid streak in the wrong place,
buxom ladies and dropiscal infants,
and Turner appeared in tempests of blue thunder,
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,
and Laurie's eyes were pronounced
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,
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,
After this Amy subsided,
till a mania for sketching from nature set her to haunting river,
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,
and a broken mullein stalk,
'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.
'genius is eternal patience',
as Michelangelo affirms,
Amy had some claim to the divine attribute,
for she persevered in spite of all obstacles,
firmly believing that in time she should do something worthy to be called
She was learning,
and enjoying other things,
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.
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.
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,
coming in with an important air one day.
what is it?"
replied her mother,
in whose eyes the stately young lady still remained
"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,
when your chickens get pecked by smarter birds.
The ugly duckling turned out a swan,
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,
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,
and make a little artistic fete for them."
"That looks feasible.
What do you want for lunch?
and coffee will be all that is necessary,
We must have cold tongue and chicken,
French chocolate and ice cream,
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."
you will have to charter an omnibus to carry them about."
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,
I've calculated the cost,
and I'll pay for it myself."
"Don't you think,
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,"
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.
if your heart is set upon it,
and you see your way through without too great an outlay of money,
I'll say no more.
Talk it over with the girls,
and whichever way you decide,
I'll do my best to help you."
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,"
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.
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
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,
and mistakes were uncommonly numerous,
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,
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,
'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,"
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,
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?"
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,"
whose temper was beginning to fail.
Shrouded in a thick veil and armed with a genteel traveling basket,
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,
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!
in all its vulgar size and brilliancy,
was revealed to the highborn eyes of a Tudor!
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,"
with a face nearly as red as her fish.
I beg pardon.
It's an uncommonly fine one,
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,
"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,"
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
and drove away in state to meet and escort her guests to the banquet.
"There's the rumble,
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,
with an indescribable expression,
for looking quite lost in the big carriage,
sat Amy and one young lady.
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,"
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,
'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,
said her mother,
as respectfully as if the whole twelve had come.
"Miss Eliott is a very sweet girl,
and seemed to enjoy herself,
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,"
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,"
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,"
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,"
quite spent with laughter.
"I'm very sorry you were disappointed,
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,
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.
Fortune suddenly smiled upon Jo,
and dropped a good luck penny in her path.
Not a golden penny,
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,
'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.
'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,
"Does genius burn,
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,
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
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,
"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,
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.
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,"
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,
and he pointed to the name of Mrs. S.L.A.N.G.
under the title of the tale.
"Do you know her?"
with sudden interest.
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,
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,
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,
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,
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?"
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,
'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,
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,"
calling a family council.
"Don't spoil your book,
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."
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,
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,"
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',"
turning to the publisher's note.
"Do as he tells you.
He knows what will sell,
and we don't.
Make a good,
and get as much money as you can.
when you've got a name,
you can afford to digress,
and have philosophical and metaphysical people in your novels,"
who took a strictly practical view of the subject.
"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,
If I've got some of his wise ideas jumbled up with my romance,
so much the better for me.
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
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.
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,
with the best intentions in life,
Jo quenched the spritly scenes which relieved the somber character of the story.
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.
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.
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,
'All is sweet,
continued the perplexed authoress.
'The theory of the book is bad,
full of morbid fancies,
and unnatural characters.'
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.
'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.'
Some make fun of it,
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,
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,
it won't kill me,"
she said stoutly,
"and I've got the joke on my side,
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
So I'll comfort myself with that,
and when I'm ready,
I'll up again and take another."