Louisa May Alcott
Part 10 out of 11
"Why should you, with so much energy and talent?"
"That's just why, because talent isn't genius, and no
amount of energy can make it so. I want to be great, or nothing.
I won't be a common-place dauber, so I don't intend to try any more."
"And what are you going to do with yourself now, if I may ask?"
"Polish up my other talents, and be an ornament to society,
if I get the chance."
It was a characteristic speech, and sounded daring, but
audacity becomes young people, and Amy's ambition had a good
foundation. Laurie smiled, but he liked the spirit with
which she took up a new purpose when a long-cherished one
died, and spent no time lamenting.
"Good! And here is where Fred Vaughn comes in, I fancy."
Amy preserved a discreet silence, but there was a conscious
look in her downcast face that made Laurie sit up and say gravely,
"Now I'm going to play brother, and ask questions. May I?"
"I don't promise to answer."
"Your face will, if your tongue won't. You aren't woman of
the world enough yet to hide your feelings, my dear. I heard
rumors about Fred and you last year, and it's my private opinion
that if he had not been called home so suddenly and detained
so long, something would have come of it, hey?"
"That's not for me to say," was Amy's grim reply, but her lips
would smile, and there was a traitorous sparkle of the eye
which betrayed that she knew her power and enjoyed the knowledge.
"You are not engaged, I hope?" and Laurie looked very
elder-brotherly and grave all of a sudden.
"But you will be, if he comes back and goes properly down
on his knees, won't you?"
"Then you are fond of old Fred?"
"I could be, if I tried."
"But you don't intend to try till the proper moment? Bless
my soul, what unearthly prudence! He's a good fellow, Amy, but
not the man I fancied you'd like."
"He is rich, a gentleman, and has delightful manners,"
began Amy, trying to be quite cool and dignified, but feeling
a little ashamed of herself, in spite of the sincerity of her
"I understand. Queens of society can't get on without money,
so you mean to make a good match, and start in that way? Quite
right and proper, as the world goes, but it sounds odd from the
lips of one of your mother's girls."
A short speech, but the quiet decision with which it was
uttered contrasted curiously with the young speaker. Laurie
felt this instinctively and laid himself down again, with a
sense of disappointment which he could not explain. His look
and silence, as well as a certain inward self-disapproval,
ruffled Amy, and made her resolve to deliver her lecture
"I wish you'd do me the favor to rouse yourself a little,"
she said sharply.
"Do it for me, there's a dear girl."
"I could, if I tried." and she looked as if she would like
doing it in the most summary style.
"Try, then. I give you leave," returned Laurie, who enjoyed
having someone to tease, after his long abstinence from
his favorite pastime.
"You'd be angry in five minutes."
"I'm never angry with you. It takes two flints to make a fire.
You are as cool and soft as snow."
"You don't know what I can do. Snow produces a glow and a tingle,
if applied rightly. Your indifference is half affectation,
and a good stirring up would prove it."
"Stir away, it won't hurt me and it may amuse you, as the
big man said when his little wife beat him. Regard me in the
light of a husband or a carpet, and beat till you are tired,
if that sort of exercise agrees with you."
Being decidedly nettled herself, and longing to see him
shake off the apathy that so altered him, Amy sharpened both
tongue and pencil, and began.
"Flo and I have got a new name for you. It's Lazy Laurence.
How do you like it?"
She thought it would annoy him, but he only folded his
arms under his head, with an imperturbable, "That's not bad.
Thank you, ladies."
"Do you want to know what I honestly think of you?"
"Pining to be told."
"Well, I despise you."
If she had even said 'I hate you' in a petulant or coquettish
tone, he would have laughed and rather liked it, but
the grave, almost sad, accent in her voice made him open his
eyes, and ask quickly . . .
"Why, if you please?"
"Because, with every chance for being good, useful, and
happy, you are faulty, lazy, and miserable."
"Strong language, mademoiselle."
"If you like it, I'll go on."
"Pray do, it's quite interesting."
"I thought you'd find it so. Selfish people always like to
talk about themselves."
"Am I selfish?" the question slipped out involuntarily and
in a tone of surprise, for the one virtue on which he prided
himself was generosity.
"Yes, very selfish," continued Amy, in a calm, cool voice,
twice as effective just then as an angry one. "I'll show you
how, for I've studied you while we were frolicking, and I'm
not at all satisfied with you. Here you have been abroad
nearly six months, and done nothing but waste time and money
and disappoint your friends."
"Isn't a fellow to have any pleasure after a four-year
"You don't look as if you'd had much. At any rate, you are
none the better for it, as far as I can see. I said when we
first met that you had improved. Now I take it all back, for I
don't think you half so nice as when I left you at home. You
have grown abominably lazy, you like gossip, and waste time on
frivolous things, you are contented to be petted and admired
by silly people, instead of being loved and respected by wise
ones. With money, talent, position, health, and beauty, ah
you like that old Vanity! But it's the truth, so I can't help
saying it, with all these splendid things to use and enjoy, you
can find nothing to do but dawdle, and instead of being the man
you ought to be, you are only . . ." there she stopped, with
a look that had both pain and pity in it.
"Saint Laurence on a gridiron," added Laurie, blandly
finishing the sentence. But the lecture began to take effect,
for there was a wide-awake sparkle in his eyes now and a
half-angry, half-injured expression replaced the former indifference.
"I supposed you'd take it so. You men tell us we are
angels, and say we can make you what we will, but the instant
we honestly try to do you good, you laugh at us and won't
listen, which proves how much your flattery is worth." Amy
spoke bitterly, and turned her back on the exasperating
martyr at her feet.
In a minute a hand came down over the page, so that she
could not draw, and Laurie's voice said, with a droll imitation
of a penitent child, "I will be good, oh, I will be good!"
But Amy did not laugh, for she was in earnest, and tapping
on the outspread hand with her pencil, said soberly, "Aren't
you ashamed of a hand like that? It's as soft and white as a
woman's, and looks as if it never did anything but wear Jouvin's
best gloves and pick flowers for ladies. You are not a dandy,
thank Heaven, so I'm glad to see there are no diamonds or big
seal rings on it, only the little old one Jo gave you so long
ago. Dear soul, I wish she was here to help me!"
"So do I!"
The hand vanished as suddenly as it came, and there was
energy enough in the echo of her wish to suit even Amy. She
glanced down at him with a new thought in her mind, but he
was lying with his hat half over his face, as if for shade, and
his mustache hid his mouth. She only saw his chest rise and
fall, with a long breath that might have been a sigh, and the
hand that wore the ring nestled down into the grass, as if to
hide something too precious or too tender to be spoken of.
All in a minute various hints and trifles assumed shape and
significance in Amy's mind, and told her what her sister never
had confided to her. She remembered that Laurie never spoke
voluntarily of Jo, she recalled the shadow on his face just
now, the change in his character, and the wearing of the little
old ring which was no ornament to a handsome hand. Girls are
quick to read such signs and feel their eloquence. Amy had
fancied that perhaps a love trouble was at the bottom of the
alteration, and now she was sure of it. Her keen eyes filled,
and when she spoke again, it was in a voice that could be
beautifully soft and kind when she chose to make it so.
"I know I have no right to talk so to you, Laurie, and if
you weren't the sweetest-tempered fellow in the world, you'd be
very angry with me. But we are all so fond and proud of you,
I couldn't bear to think they should be disappointed in you at
home as I have been, though, perhaps they would understand
the change better than I do."
"I think they would," came from under the hat, in a grim
tone, quite as touching as a broken one.
"They ought to have told me, and not let me go blundering
and scolding, when I should have been more kind and patient
than ever. I never did like that Miss Randal and now I hate
her!" said artful Amy, wishing to be sure of her facts this time.
"Hang Miss Randal!" and Laurie knocked the hat off his
face with a look that left no doubt of his sentiments toward
that young lady.
"I beg pardon, I thought . . ." and there she paused
"No, you didn't, you knew perfectly well I never cared for
anyone but Jo," Laurie said that in his old, impetuous tone,
and turned his face away as he spoke.
"I did think so, but as they never said anything about it,
and you came away, I supposed I was mistaken. And Jo wouldn't
be kind to you? Why, I was sure she loved you dearly."
"She was kind, but not in the right way, and it's lucky for
her she didn't love me, if I'm the good-for-nothing fellow you
think me. It's her fault though, and you may tell her so."
The hard, bitter look came back again as he said that, and
it troubled Amy, for she did not know what balm to apply.
"I was wrong, I didn't know. I'm very sorry I was so cross,
but I can't help wishing you'd bear it better, Teddy, dear."
"Don't, that's her name for me!" and Laurie put up his
hand with a quick gesture to stop the words spoken in Jo's
half-kind, half-reproachful tone. "Wait till you've tried it
yourself," he added in a low voice, as he pulled up the grass
by the handful.
"I'd take it manfully, and be respected if I couldn't be
loved," said Amy, with the decision of one who knew nothing
Now, Laurie flattered himself that he had borne it remarkably
well, making no moan, asking no sympathy, and taking his
trouble away to live it down alone. Amy's lecture put the
matter in a new light, and for the first time it did look
weak and selfish to lose heart at the first failure, and shut
himself up in moody indifference. He felt as if suddenly
shaken out of a pensive dream and found it impossible to go
to sleep again. Presently he sat up and asked slowly, "Do
you think Jo would despise me as you do?"
"Yes, if she saw you now. She hates lazy people. Why don't
you do something splendid, and make her love you?"
"I did my best, but it was no use."
"Graduating well, you mean? That was no more than you
ought to have done, for your grandfather's sake. It would
have been shameful to fail after spending so much time and
money, when everyone knew that you could do well."
"I did fail, say what you will, for Jo wouldn't love me,"
began Laurie, leaning his head on his hand in a despondent
"No, you didn't, and you'll say so in the end, for it did
you good, and proved that you could do something if you tried.
If you'd only set about another task of some sort, you'd soon
be your hearty, happy self again, and forget your trouble."
"Try it and see. You needn't shrug your shoulders, and
think, 'Much she knows about such things'. I don't pretend
to be wise, but I am observing, and I see a great deal more
than you'd imagine. I'm interested in other people's experiences
and inconsistencies, and though I can't explain, I remember
and use them for my own benefit. Love Jo all your days,
if you choose, but don't let it spoil you, for it's wicked
to throw away so many good gifts because you can't have the
one you want. There, I won't lecture any more, for I know
you'll wake up and be a man in spite of that hardhearted girl."
Neither spoke for several minutes. Laurie sat turning
the little ring on his finger, and Amy put the last touches to
the hasty sketch she had been working at while she talked.
Presently she put it on his knee, merely saying, "How do you
He looked and then he smiled, as he could not well help
doing, for it was capitally done, the long, lazy figure on the
grass, with listless face, half-shut eyes, and one hand holding
a cigar, from which came the little wreath of smoke that encircled
the dreamer's head.
"How well you draw!" he said, with a genuine surprise
and pleasure at her skill, adding, with a half-laugh,
"Yes, that's me."
"As you are. This is as you were." and Amy laid another
sketch beside the one he held.
It was not nearly so well done, but there was a life and
spirit in it which atoned for many faults, and it recalled the
past so vividly that a sudden change swept over the young
man's face as he looked. Only a rough sketch of Laurie taming
a horse. Hat and coat were off, and every line of the active
figure, resolute face, and commanding attitude was full of
energy and meaning. The handsome brute, just subdued, stood
arching his neck under the tightly drawn rein, with one foot
impatiently pawing the ground, and ears pricked up as if
listening for the voice that had mastered him. In the ruffled
mane, the rider's breezy hair and erect attitude, there was a
suggestion of suddenly arrested motion, of strength, courage,
and youthful buoyancy that contrasted sharply with the supine
grace of the '_Dolce far Niente_' sketch. Laurie said nothing
but as his eye went from one to the other, Amy saw him flush
up and fold his lips together as if he read and accepted the
little lesson she had given him. That satisfied her, and
without waiting for him to speak, she said, in her sprightly
way . . .
"Don't you remember the day you played Rarey with Puck,
and we all looked on? Meg and Beth were frightened, but Jo
clapped and pranced, and I sat on the fence and drew you. I
found that sketch in my portfolio the other day, touched it
up, and kept it to show you."
"Much obliged. You've improved immensely since then,
and I congratulate you. May I venture to suggest in 'a
honeymoon paradise' that five o'clock is the dinner hour at
Laurie rose as he spoke, returned the pictures with a smile
and a bow and looked at his watch, as if to remind her that
even moral lectures should have an end. He tried to resume his
former easy, indifferent air, but it was an affectation now, for
the rousing had been more effacious than he would confess. Amy
felt the shade of coldness in his manner, and said to herself . . .
"Now, I've offended him. Well, if it does him good, I'm
glad, if it makes him hate me, I'm sorry, but it's true, and
I can't take back a word of it."
They laughed and chatted all the way home, and little
Baptiste, up behind, thought that monsieur and madamoiselle
were in charming spirits. But both felt ill at ease. The
friendly frankness was disturbed, the sunshine had a shadow
over it, and despite their apparent gaiety, there was a secret
discontent in the heart of each.
"Shall we see you this evening, mon frere?" asked Amy, as
they parted at her aunt's door.
"Unfortunately I have an engagement. Au revoir, madamoiselle,"
and Laurie bent as if to kiss her hand, in the foreign fashion,
which became him better than many men. Something in his face
made Amy say quickly and warmly . . .
"No, be yourself with me, Laurie, and part in the good old way.
I'd rather have a hearty English handshake than all the
sentimental salutations in France."
"Goodbye, dear," and with these words, uttered in the tone she liked,
Laurie left her, after a handshake almost painful in its heartiness.
Next morning, instead of the usual call, Amy received a
note which made her smile at the beginning and sigh at the end.
My Dear Mentor,
Please make my adieux to your aunt, and exult within
yourself, for 'Lazy Laurence' has gone to his grandpa, like
the best of boys. A pleasant winter to you, and may the gods
grant you a blissful honeymoon at Valrosa! I think Fred
would be benefited by a rouser. Tell him so, with my congratulations.
Yours gratefully, Telemachus
"Good boy! I'm glad he's gone," said Amy, with an approving smile.
The next minute her face fell as she glanced about the empty room,
adding, with an involuntary sigh, "Yes, I am glad, but how I shall
THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW
When the first bitterness was over, the family accepted
the inevitable, and tried to bear it cheerfully, helping one
another by the increased affection which comes to bind households
tenderly together in times of trouble. They put away their grief,
and each did his or her part toward making that last year a happy one.
The pleasantest room in the house was set apart for Beth,
and in it was gathered everything that she most loved, flowers,
pictures, her piano, the little worktable, and the beloved
pussies. Father's best books found their way there, Mother's
easy chair, Jo's desk, Amy's finest sketches, and every day
Meg brought her babies on a loving pilgrimage, to make sunshine
for Aunty Beth. John quietly set apart a little sum, that he
might enjoy the pleasure of keeping the invalid supplied with
the fruit she loved and longed for. Old Hannah never wearied
of concocting dainty dishes to tempt a capricious appetite,
dropping tears as she worked, and from across the sea came
little gifts and cheerful letters, seeming to bring breaths
of warmth and fragrance from lands that know no winter.
Here, cherished like a household saint in its shrine, sat
Beth, tranquil and busy as ever, for nothing could change the
sweet, unselfish nature, and even while preparing to leave
life, she tried to make it happier for those who should remain
behind. The feeble fingers were never idle, and one of her
pleasures was to make little things for the school children
daily passing to and fro, to drop a pair of mittens from her
window for a pair of purple hands, a needlebook for some small
mother of many dolls, penwipers for young penmen toiling through
forests of pothooks, scrapbooks for picture-loving eyes, and
all manner of pleasant devices, till the reluctant climbers of
the ladder of learning found their way strewn with flowers, as
it were, and came to regard the gentle giver as a sort of fairy
godmother, who sat above there, and showered down gifts miraculously
suited to their tastes and needs. If Beth had wanted any
reward, she found it in the bright little faces always turned up
to her window, with nods and smiles, and the droll little letters
which came to her, full of blots and gratitude.
The first few months were very happy ones, and Beth often
used to look round, and say "How beautiful this is!" as they
all sat together in her sunny room, the babies kicking and crowing
on the floor, mother and sisters working near, and father
reading, in his pleasant voice, from the wise old books which
seemed rich in good and comfortable words, as applicable now as
when written centuries ago, a little chapel, where a paternal
priest taught his flock the hard lessons all must learn, trying
to show them that hope can comfort love, and faith make resignation
possible. Simple sermons, that went straight to the souls of
those who listened, for the father's heart was in the minister's
religion, and the frequent falter in the voice gave a double
eloquence to the words he spoke or read.
It was well for all that this peaceful time was given them as
preparation for the sad hours to come, for by-and-by, Beth said the
needle was 'so heavy', and put it down forever. Talking wearied her,
faces troubled her, pain claimed her for its own, and her tranquil
spirit was sorrowfully perturbed by the ills that vexed her feeble
flesh. Ah me! Such heavy days, such long, long nights, such aching
hearts and imploring prayers, when those who loved her best were
forced to see the thin hands stretched out to them beseechingly, to
hear the bitter cry, "Help me, help me!" and to feel that there was
no help. A sad eclipse of the serene soul, a sharp struggle of the
young life with death, but both were mercifully brief, and then the
natural rebellion over, the old peace returned more beautiful than
ever. With the wreck of her frail body, Beth's soul grew strong, and
though she said little, those about her felt that she was ready, saw
that the first pilgrim called was likewise the fittest, and waited
with her on the shore, trying to see the Shining Ones coming to
receive her when she crossed the river.
Jo never left her for an hour since Beth had said "I feel
stronger when you are here." She slept on a couch in the room,
waking often to renew the fire, to feed, lift, or wait upon the
patient creature who seldom asked for anything, and 'tried not to
be a trouble'. All day she haunted the room, jealous of any other
nurse, and prouder of being chosen then than of any honor her life
ever brought her. Precious and helpful hours to Jo, for now her
heart received the teaching that it needed. Lessons in patience
were so sweetly taught her that she could not fail to learn them,
charity for all, the lovely spirit that can forgive and truly
forget unkindness, the loyalty to duty that makes the hardest
easy, and the sincere faith that fears nothing, but trusts
Often when she woke Jo found Beth reading in her well-worn
little book, heard her singing softly, to beguile the sleepless
night, or saw her lean her face upon her hands, while slow tears
dropped through the transparent fingers, and Jo would lie watching
her with thoughts too deep for tears, feeling that Beth, in
her simple, unselfish way, was trying to wean herself from the
dear old life, and fit herself for the life to come, by sacred
words of comfort, quiet prayers, and the music she loved so well.
Seeing this did more for Jo than the wisest sermons, the
saintliest hymns, the most fervent prayers that any voice could
utter. For with eyes made clear by many tears, and a heart
softened by the tenderest sorrow, she recognized the beauty of
her sister's life--uneventful, unambitious, yet full of the
genuine virtues which 'smell sweet, and blossom in the dust',
the self-forgetfulness that makes the humblest on earth remembered
soonest in heaven, the true success which is possible to all.
One night when Beth looked among the books upon her table,
to find something to make her forget the mortal weariness that
was almost as hard to bear as pain, as she turned the leaves of
her old favorite, Pilgrims's Progress, she found a little paper,
scribbled over in Jo's hand. The name caught her eye and the
blurred look of the lines made her sure that tears had fallen
"Poor Jo! She's fast asleep, so I won't wake her to ask
leave. She shows me all her things, and I don't think she'll
mind if I look at this", thought Beth, with a glance at her
sister, who lay on the rug, with the tongs beside her, ready
to wake up the minute the log fell apart.
Sitting patient in the shadow
Till the blessed light shall come,
A serene and saintly presence
Sanctifies our troubled home.
Earthly joys and hopes and sorrows
Break like ripples on the strand
Of the deep and solemn river
Where her willing feet now stand.
O my sister, passing from me,
Out of human care and strife,
Leave me, as a gift, those virtues
Which have beautified your life.
Dear, bequeath me that great patience
Which has power to sustain
A cheerful, uncomplaining spirit
In its prison-house of pain.
Give me, for I need it sorely,
Of that courage, wise and sweet,
Which has made the path of duty
Green beneath your willing feet.
Give me that unselfish nature,
That with charity devine
Can pardon wrong for love's dear sake--
Meek heart, forgive me mine!
Thus our parting daily loseth
Something of its bitter pain,
And while learning this hard lesson,
My great loss becomes my gain.
For the touch of grief will render
My wild nature more serene,
Give to life new aspirations,
A new trust in the unseen.
Henceforth, safe across the river,
I shall see forever more
A beloved, household spirit
Waiting for me on the shore.
Hope and faith, born of my sorrow,
Guardian angels shall become,
And the sister gone before me
By their hands shall lead me home.
Blurred and blotted, faulty and feeble as the lines were, they
brought a look of inexpressible comfort to Beth's face, for her one
regret had been that she had done so little, and this seemed to
assure her that her life had not been useless, that her death would
not bring the despair she feared. As she sat with the paper folded
between her hands, the charred log fell asunder. Jo started up,
revived the blaze, and crept to the bedside, hoping Beth slept.
"Not asleep, but so happy, dear. See, I found this and read it.
I knew you wouldn't care. Have I been all that to you, Jo?" she
asked, with wistful, humble earnestness.
"_Oh_, Beth, so much, so much!" and Jo's head went down upon the
pillow beside her sister's.
"Then I don't feel as if I'd wasted my life. I'm not so good
as you make me, but I have tried to do right. And now, when it's
too late to begin even to do better, it's such a comfort to know
that someone loves me so much, and feels as if I'd helped them."
"More than any one in the world, Beth. I used to think I
couldn't let you go, but I'm learning to feel that I don't lose
you, that you'll be more to me than ever, and death can't part
us, though it seems to."
"I know it cannot, and I don't fear it any longer, for I'm
sure I shall be your Beth still, to love and help you more than
ever. You must take my place, Jo, and be everything to Father
and Mother when I'm gone. They will turn to you, don't fail
them, and if it's hard to work alone, remember that I don't
forget you, and that you'll be happier in doing that than writing
splendid books or seeing all the world, for love is the only thing
that we can carry with us when we go, and it makes the end so easy."
"I'll try, Beth." and then and there Jo renounced her old
ambition, pledged herself to a new and better one, acknowledging
the poverty of other desires, and feeling the blessed solace of
a belief in the immortality of love.
So the spring days came and went, the sky grew clearer, the
earth greener, the flowers were up fairly early, and the birds
came back in time to say goodbye to Beth, who, like a tired but
trustful child, clung to the hands that had led her all her life,
as Father and Mother guided her tenderly through the Valley of
the Shadow, and gave her up to God.
Seldom except in books do the dying utter memorable words,
see visions, or depart with beatified countenances, and those
who have sped many parting souls know that to most the end
comes as naturally and simply as sleep. As Beth had hoped, the
'tide went out easily', and in the dark hour before dawn, on
the bosom where she had drawn her first breath, she quietly
drew her last, with no farewell but one loving look, one little
With tears and prayers and tender hands, Mother and sisters
made her ready for the long sleep that pain would never mar again,
seeing with grateful eyes the beautiful serenity that soon replaced
the pathetic patience that had wrung their hearts so long, and
feeling with reverent joy that to their darling death was a
benignant angel, not a phantom full of dread.
When morning came, for the first time in many months the fire was
out, Jo's place was empty, and the room was very still. But a bird
sang blithely on a budding bough, close by, the snowdrops blossomed
freshly at the window, and the spring sunshine streamed in like a
benediction over the placid face upon the pillow, a face so full of
painless peace that those who loved it best smiled through their
tears, and thanked God that Beth was well at last.
LEARNING TO FORGET
Amy's lecture did Laurie good, though, of course, he did
not own it till long afterward. Men seldom do, for when women
are the advisers, the lords of creation don't take the advice
till they have persuaded themselves that it is just what they
intended to do. Then they act upon it, and, if it succeeds,
they give the weaker vessel half the credit of it. If it
fails, they generously give her the whole. Laurie went back
to his grandfather, and was so dutifully devoted for several
weeks that the old gentleman declared the climate of Nice had
improved him wonderfully, and he had better try it again.
There was nothing the young gentleman would have liked better,
but elephants could not have dragged him back after the scolding
he had received. Pride forbid, and whenever the longing
grew very strong, he fortified his resolution by repeating
the words that had made the deepest impression--"I despise you."
"Go and do something splendid that will make her love you."
Laurie turned the matter over in his mind so often that he soon
brought himself to confess that he had been selfish and lazy,
but then when a man has a great sorrow, he should be indulged
in all sorts of vagaries till he has lived it down. He felt
that his blighted affections were quite dead now, and though
he should never cease to be a faithful mourner, there was
no occasion to wear his weeds ostentatiously. Jo wouldn't
love him, but he might make her respect and admire him by doing
something which should prove that a girl's 'No' had not spoiled
his life. He had always meant to do something, and Amy's
advice was quite unnecessary. He had only been waiting till
the aforesaid blighted affections were decently interred.
That being done, he felt that he was ready to 'hide his
stricken heart, and still toil on'.
As Goethe, when he had a joy or a grief, put it into a song,
so Laurie resolved to embalm his love sorrow in music, and to
compose a Requiem which should harrow up Jo's soul and melt the
heart of every hearer. Therefore the next time the old gentleman
found him getting restless and moody and ordered him off,
he went to Vienna, where he had musical friends, and fell to
work with the firm determination to distinguish himself. But
whether the sorrow was too vast to be embodied in music, or
music too ethereal to uplift a mortal woe, he soon discovered
that the Requiem was beyond him just at present. It was evident
that his mind was not in working order yet, and his ideas
needed clarifying, for often in the middle of a plaintive strain,
he would find himself humming a dancing tune that vividly recalled
the Christmas ball at Nice, especially the stout Frenchman,
and put an effectual stop to tragic composition for the time being.
Then he tried an opera, for nothing seemed impossible in
the beginning, but here again unforeseen difficulties beset
him. He wanted Jo for his heroine, and called upon his memory
to supply him with tender recollections and romantic visions
of his love. But memory turned traitor, and as if possessed
by the perverse spirit of the girl, would only recall Jo's
oddities, faults, and freaks, would only show her in the most
unsentimental aspects--beating mats with her head tied up in
a bandanna, barricading herself with the sofa pillow, or throwing
cold water over his passion a la Gummidge--and an irresistable
laugh spoiled the pensive picture he was endeavoring to
paint. Jo wouldn't be put into the opera at any price, and he
had to give her up with a "Bless that girl, what a torment she is!"
and a clutch at his hair, as became a distracted composer.
When he looked about him for another and a less intractable
damsel to immortalize in melody, memory produced one with the
most obliging readiness. This phantom wore many faces, but it
always had golden hair, was enveloped in a diaphanous cloud, and
floated airily before his mind's eye in a pleasing chaos of roses,
peacocks, white ponies, and blue ribbons. He did not give the
complacent wraith any name, but he took her for his heroine and
grew quite fond of her, as well he might, for he gifted her with
every gift and grace under the sun, and escorted her, unscathed,
through trials which would have annihilated any mortal woman.
Thanks to this inspiration, he got on swimmingly for a time,
but gradually the work lost its charm, and he forgot to compose,
while he sat musing, pen in hand, or roamed about the gay city
to get some new ideas and refresh his mind, which seemed to be
in a somewhat unsettled state that winter. He did not do much,
but he thought a great deal and was conscious of a change of
some sort going on in spite of himself. "It's genius simmering,
perhaps. I'll let it simmer, and see what comes of it," he said,
with a secret suspicion all the while that it wasn't genius, but
something far more common. Whatever it was, it simmered to
some purpose, for he grew more and more discontented with his
desultory life, began to long for some real and earnest work
to go at, soul and body, and finally came to the wise conclusion
that everyone who loved music was not a composer. Returning
from one of Mozart's grand operas, splendidly performed at
the Royal Theatre, he looked over his own, played a few of the
best parts, sat staring at the busts of Mendelssohn, Beethoven,
and Bach, who stared benignly back again. Then suddenly he
tore up his music sheets, one by one, and as the last fluttered
out of his hand, he said soberly to himself . . .
"She is right! Talent isn't genius, and you can't make it
so. That music has taken the vanity out of me as Rome took it
out of her, and I won't be a humbug any longer. Now what shall
That seemed a hard question to answer, and Laurie began to
wish he had to work for his daily bread. Now if ever, occurred
an eligible opportunity for 'going to the devil', as he once
forcibly expressed it, for he had plenty of money and nothing
to do, and Satan is proverbially fond of providing employment
for full and idle hands. The poor fellow had temptations
enough from without and from within, but he withstood them
pretty well, for much as he valued liberty, he valued good
faith and confidence more, so his promise to his grandfather,
and his desire to be able to look honestly into the eyes of
the women who loved him, and say "All's well," kept him safe
Very likely some Mrs. Grundy will observe, "I don't believe it,
boys will be boys, young men must sow their wild oats,
and women must not expect miracles." I dare say you don't,
Mrs. Grundy, but it's true nevertheless. Women work
a good many miracles, and I have a persuasion that they may
perform even that of raising the standard of manhood by
refusing to echo such sayings. Let the boys be boys, the
longer the better, and let the young men sow their wild oats
if they must. But mothers, sisters, and friends may help to
make the crop a small one, and keep many tares from spoiling
the harvest, by believing, and showing that they believe, in
the possibility of loyalty to the virtues which make men manliest
in good women's eyes. If it is a feminine delusion, leave us
to enjoy it while we may, for without it half the beauty and
the romance of life is lost, and sorrowful forebodings would
embitter all our hopes of the brave, tenderhearted little lads,
who still love their mothers better than themselves and are
not ashamed to own it.
Laurie thought that the task of forgetting his love for Jo
would absorb all his powers for years, but to his great surprise
he discovered it grew easier every day. He refused to believe
it at first, got angry with himself, and couldn't understand it,
but these hearts of ours are curious and contrary things, and
time and nature work their will in spite of us. Laurie's heart
wouldn't ache. The wound persisted in healing with a rapidity
that astonished him, and instead of trying to forget, he found
himself trying to remember. He had not foreseen this turn of
affairs, and was not prepared for it. He was disgusted with
himself, surprised at his own fickleness, and full of a
queer mixture of disappointment and relief that he could
recover from such a tremendous blow so soon. He carefully
stirred up the embers of his lost love, but they refused to
burst into a blaze. There was only a comfortable glow that
warmed and did him good without putting him into a fever,
and he was reluctantly obliged to confess that the boyish
passion was slowly subsiding into a more tranquil sentiment,
very tender, a little sad and resentful still, but that was
sure to pass away in time, leaving a brotherly affection
which would last unbroken to the end.
As the word 'brotherly' passed through his mind in one
of his reveries, he smiled, and glanced up at the picture of
Mozart that was before him . . .
"Well, he was a great man, and when he couldn't have
one sister he took the other, and was happy."
Laurie did not utter the words, but he thought them, and
the next instant kissed the little old ring, saying to himself,
"No, I won't! I haven't forgotten, I never can. I'll try again,
and if that fails, why then . . ."
Leaving his sentence unfinished, he seized pen and paper
and wrote to Jo, telling her that he could not settle to anything
while there was the least hope of her changing her mind.
Couldn't she, wouldn't she--and let him come home and be happy?
While waiting for an answer he did nothing, but he did it
energetically, for he was in a fever of impatience. It came
at last, and settled his mind effectually on one point, for Jo
decidedly couldn't and wouldn't. She was wrapped up in Beth,
and never wished to hear the word love again. Then she begged
him to be happy with somebody else, but always keep a little
corner of his heart for his loving sister Jo. In a postscript
she desired him not to tell Amy that Beth was worse, she was
coming home in the spring and there was no need of saddening
the remainder of her stay. That would be time enough, please
God, but Laurie must write to her often, and not let her feel
lonely, homesick or anxious.
"So I will, at once. Poor little girl, it will be a sad
going home for her, I'm afraid," and Laurie opened his desk,
as if writing to Amy had been the proper conclusion of the
sentence left unfinished some weeks before.
But he did not write the letter that day, for as he rummaged
out his best paper, he came across something which
changed his purpose. Tumbling about in one part of the desk
among bills, passports, and business documents of various kinds
were several of Jo's letters, and in another compartment were
three notes from Amy, carefully tied up with one of her blue
ribbons and sweetly suggestive of the little dead roses put
away inside. With a half-repentant, half-amused expression,
Laurie gathered up all Jo's letters, smoothed, folded, and put
them neatly into a small drawer of the desk, stood a minute
turning the ring thoughtfully on his finger, then slowly drew
it off, laid it with the letters, locked the drawer, and went
out to hear High Mass at Saint Stefan's, feeling as if there
had been a funeral, and though not overwhelmed with affliction,
this seemed a more proper way to spend the rest of the day than
in writing letters to charming young ladies.
The letter went very soon, however, and was promptly answered,
for Amy was homesick, and confessed it in the most
delightfully confiding manner. The correspondence flourished
famously, and letters flew to and fro with unfailing regularity
all through the early spring. Laurie sold his busts, made
allumettes of his opera, and went back to Paris, hoping somebody
would arrive before long. He wanted desperately to go
to Nice, but would not till he was asked, and Amy would not
ask him, for just then she was having little experiences of
her own, which made her rather wish to avoid the quizzical
eyes of 'our boy'.
Fred Vaughn had returned, and put the question to which
she had once decided to answer, "Yes, thank you," but now she
said, "No, thank you," kindly but steadily, for when the time
came, her courage failed her, and she found that something
more than money and position was needed to satisfy the new
longing that filled her heart so full of tender hopes and
fears. The words, "Fred is a good fellow, but not at all
the man I fancied you would ever like," and Laurie's face
when he uttered them, kept returning to her as pertinaciously
as her own did when she said in look, if not in words, "I
shall marry for money." It troubled her to remember that
now, she wished she could take it back, it sounded so unwomanly.
She didn't want Laurie to think her a heartless, worldly
creature. She didn't care to be a queen of society now
half so much as she did to be a lovable woman. She was
so glad he didn't hate her for the dreadful things she said,
but took them so beautifully and was kinder than ever. His
letters were such a comfort, for the home letters were very
irregular and not half so satisfactory as his when they did
come. It was not only a pleasure, but a duty to answer them,
for the poor fellow was forlorn, and needed petting, since Jo
persisted in being stonyhearted. She ought to have made an
effort and tried to love him. It couldn't be very hard,
many people would be proud and glad to have such a dear boy
care for them. But Jo never would act like other girls, so
there was nothing to do but be very kind and treat him like
If all brothers were treated as well as Laurie was at
this period, they would be a much happier race of beings than
they are. Amy never lectured now. She asked his opinion on
all subjects, she was interested in everything he did, made
charming little presents for him, and sent him two letters
a week, full of lively gossip, sisterly confidences, and
captivating sketches of the lovely scenes about her. As few
brothers are complimented by having their letters carried
about in their sister's pockets, read and reread diligently,
cried over when short, kissed when long, and treasured carefully,
we will not hint that Amy did any of these fond and
foolish things. But she certainly did grow a little pale
and pensive that spring, lost much of her relish for society,
and went out sketching alone a good deal. She never had much
to show when she came home, but was studying nature, I dare
say, while she sat for hours, with her hands folded, on the
terrace at Valrosa, or absently sketched any fancy that
occurred to her, a stalwart knight carved on a tomb, a young
man asleep in the grass, with his hat over his eyes, or a curly
haired girl in gorgeous array, promenading down a ballroom on
the arm of a tall gentleman, both faces being left a blur
according to the last fashion in art, which was safe but not
Her aunt thought that she regretted her answer to Fred,
and finding denials useless and explanations impossible, Amy
left her to think what she liked, taking care that Laurie
should know that Fred had gone to Egypt. That was all, but
he understood it, and looked relieved, as he said to himself,
with a venerable air . . .
"I was sure she would think better of it. Poor old fellow!
I've been through it all, and I can sympathize."
With that he heaved a great sigh, and then, as if he had
discharged his duty to the past, put his feet up on the sofa
and enjoyed Amy's letter luxuriously.
While these changes were going on abroad, trouble had
come at home. But the letter telling that Beth was failing
never reached Amy, and when the next found her at Vevay, for
the heat had driven them from Nice in May, and they had travelled
slowly to Switzerland, by way of Genoa and the Italian
lakes. She bore it very well, and quietly submitted to the
family decree that she should not shorten her visit, for
since it was too late to say goodbye to Beth, she had better
stay, and let absence soften her sorrow. But her heart was
very heavy, she longed to be at home, and every day looked
wistfully across the lake, waiting for Laurie to come and
He did come very soon, for the same mail brought letters
to them both, but he was in Germany, and it took some days to
reach him. The moment he read it, he packed his knapsack,
bade adieu to his fellow pedestrians, and was off to keep his
promise, with a heart full of joy and sorrow, hope and suspense.
He knew Vevay well, and as soon as the boat touched the
little quay, he hurried along the shore to La Tour, where the
Carrols were living en pension. The garcon was in despair
that the whole family had gone to take a promenade on the
lake, but no, the blonde mademoiselle might be in the chateau
garden. If monsieur would give himself the pain of sitting
down, a flash of time should present her. But monsieur could
not wait even a 'flash of time', and in the middle of the
speech departed to find mademoiselle himself.
A pleasant old garden on the borders of the lovely lake,
with chestnuts rustling overhead, ivy climbing everywhere, and
the black shadow of the tower falling far across the sunny
water. At one corner of the wide, low wall was a seat, and here
Amy often came to read or work, or console herself with the
beauty all about her. She was sitting here that day, leaning
her head on her hand, with a homesick heart and heavy eyes,
thinking of Beth and wondering why Laurie did not come. She
did not hear him cross the courtyard beyond, nor see him pause
in the archway that led from the subterranean path into the
garden. He stood a minute looking at her with new eyes, seeing
what no one had ever seen before, the tender side of Amy's character.
Everything about her mutely suggested love and sorrow,
the blotted letters in her lap, the black ribbon that tied up
her hair, the womanly pain and patience in her face, even the
little ebony cross at her throat seemed pathetic to Laurie,
for he had given it to her, and she wore it as her only ornament.
If he had any doubts about the reception she would give
him, they were set at rest the minute she looked up and saw
him, for dropping everything, she ran to him, exclaiming in a
tone of unmistakable love and longing . . .
"Oh, Laurie, Laurie, I knew you'd come to me!"
I think everything was said and settled then, for as they
stood together quite silent for a moment, with the dark head
bent down protectingly over the light one, Amy felt that no
one could comfort and sustain her so well as Laurie, and
Laurie decided that Amy was the only woman in the world who
could fill Jo's place and make him happy. He did not tell her
so, but she was not disappointed, for both felt the truth,
were satisfied, and gladly left the rest to silence.
In a minute Amy went back to her place, and while she
dried her tears, Laurie gathered up the scattered papers,
finding in the sight of sundry well-worn letters and suggestive
sketches good omens for the future. As he sat down beside her,
Amy felt shy again, and turned rosy red at the recollection of
her impulsive greeting.
"I couldn't help it, I felt so lonely and sad, and was so
very glad to see you. It was such a surprise to look up and find
you, just as I was beginning to fear you wouldn't come," she said,
trying in vain to speak quite naturally.
"I came the minute I heard. I wish I could say something
to comfort you for the loss of dear little Beth, but I can only
feel, and . . ." He could not get any further, for he too
turned bashful all of a sudden, and did not quite know what to
say. He longed to lay Amy's head down on his shoulder, and tell
her to have a good cry, but he did not dare, so took her hand
instead, and gave it a sympathetic squeeze that was better than
"You needn't say anything, this comforts me," she said
softly. "Beth is well and happy, and I mustn't wish her back,
but I dread the going home, much as I long to see them all.
We won't talk about it now, for it makes me cry, and I want
to enjoy you while you stay. You needn't go right back, need
"Not if you want me, dear."
"I do, so much. Aunt and Flo are very kind, but you
seem like one of the family, and it would be so comfortable to
have you for a little while."
Amy spoke and looked so like a homesick child whose heart
was full that Laurie forgot his bashfulness all at once, and
gave her just what she wanted--the petting she was used to and
the cheerful conversation she needed.
"Poor little soul, you look as if you'd grieved yourself
half sick! I'm going to take care of you, so don't cry any
more, but come and walk about with me, the wind is too chilly
for you to sit still," he said, in the half-caressing,
half-commanding way that Amy liked, as he tied on her hat,
drew her arm through his, and began to pace up and down the
sunny walk under the new-leaved chestnuts. He felt more at
ease upon his legs, and Amy found it pleasant to have a strong
arm to lean upon, a familiar face to smile at her, and a kind
voice to talk delightfully for her alone.
The quaint old garden had sheltered many pairs of lovers,
and seemed expressly made for them, so sunny and secluded was
it, with nothing but the tower to overlook them, and the wide
lake to carry away the echo of their words, as it rippled by
below. For an hour this new pair walked and talked, or rested
on the wall, enjoying the sweet influences which gave such a
charm to time and place, and when an unromantic dinner bell
warned them away, Amy felt as if she left her burden of
loneliness and sorrow behind her in the chateau garden.
The moment Mrs. Carrol saw the girl's altered face, she
was illuminated with a new idea, and exclaimed to herself,
"Now I understand it all--the child has been pining for young
Laurence. Bless my heart, I never thought of such a thing!"
With praiseworthy discretion, the good lady said nothing,
and betrayed no sign of enlightenment, but cordially urged
Laurie to stay and begged Amy to enjoy his society, for it
would do her more good than so much solitude. Amy was a
model of docility, and as her aunt was a good deal occupied
with Flo, she was left to entertain her friend, and did it
with more than her usual success.
At Nice, Laurie had lounged and Amy had scolded. At
Vevay, Laurie was never idle, but always walking, riding,
boating, or studying in the most energetic manner, while
Amy admired everything he did and followed his example as
far and as fast as she could. He said the change was owing
to the climate, and she did not contradict him, being glad
of a like excuse for her own recovered health and spirits.
The invigorating air did them both good, and much exercise
worked wholesome changes in minds as well as bodies.
They seemed to get clearer views of life and duty up there
among the everlasting hills. The fresh winds blew away
desponding doubts, delusive fancies, and moody mists. The
warm spring sunshine brought out all sorts of aspiring ideas,
tender hopes, and happy thoughts. The lake seemed to wash
away the troubles of the past, and the grand old mountains
to look benignly down upon them saying, "Little children,
love one another."
In spite of the new sorrow, it was a very happy time, so
happy that Laurie could not bear to disturb it by a word. It
took him a little while to recover from his surprise at the
cure of his first, and as he had firmly believed, his last
and only love. He consoled himself for the seeming disloyalty
by the thought that Jo's sister was almost the same as Jo's
self, and the conviction that it would have been impossible
to love any other woman but Amy so soon and so well. His first
wooing had been of the tempestuous order, and he looked back
upon it as if through a long vista of years with a feeling of
compassion blended with regret. He was not ashamed of it,
but put it away as one of the bitter-sweet experiences of his
life, for which he could be grateful when the pain was over.
His second wooing, he resolved, should be as calm and simple
as possible. There was no need of having a scene, hardly
any need of telling Amy that he loved her, she knew it without
words and had given him his answer long ago. It all came
about so naturally that no one could complain, and he knew that
everybody would be pleased, even Jo. But when our first little
passion has been crushed, we are apt to be wary and slow in making
a second trial, so Laurie let the days pass, enjoying every hour,
and leaving to chance the utterance of the word that would
put an end to the first and sweetest part of his new romance.
He had rather imagined that the denoument would take place
in the chateau garden by moonlight, and in the most graceful and
decorous manner, but it turned out exactly the reverse, for the
matter was settled on the lake at noonday in a few blunt words.
They had been floating about all the morning, from gloomy
St. Gingolf to sunny Montreux, with the Alps of Savoy on one side,
Mont St. Bernard and the Dent du Midi on the other, pretty Vevay in
the valley, and Lausanne upon the hill beyond, a cloudless blue
sky overhead, and the bluer lake below, dotted with the picturesque
boats that look like white-winged gulls.
They had been talking of Bonnivard, as they glided past
Chillon, and of Rousseau, as they looked up at Clarens, where he
wrote his Heloise. Neither had read it, but they knew it was a
love story, and each privately wondered if it was half as interesting
as their own. Amy had been dabbling her hand in the water
during the little pause that fell between them, and when she looked
up, Laurie was leaning on his oars with an expression in his eyes
that made her say hastily, merely for the sake of saying something . . .
"You must be tired. Rest a little, and let me row. It will do me
good, for since you came I have been altogether lazy and luxurious."
"I'm not tired, but you may take an oar, if you like. There's
room enough, though I have to sit nearly in the middle, else the
boat won't trim," returned Laurie, as if he rather liked the
Feeling that she had not mended matters much, Amy took the
offered third of a seat, shook her hair over her face, and accepted
an oar. She rowed as well as she did many other things, and though
she used both hands, and Laurie but one, the oars kept time, and
the boat went smoothly through the water.
"How well we pull together, don't we?" said Amy, who objected
to silence just then.
"So well that I wish we might always pull in the same boat.
Will you, Amy?" very tenderly.
"Yes, Laurie," very low.
Then they both stopped rowing, and unconsciously added a pretty
little tableau of human love and happiness to the dissolving views
reflected in the lake.
It was easy to promise self-abnegation when self was
wrapped up in another, and heart and soul were purified by a
sweet example. But when the helpful voice was silent, the
daily lesson over, the beloved presence gone, and nothing remained
but loneliness and grief, then Jo found her promise very
hard to keep. How could she 'comfort Father and Mother' when
her own heart ached with a ceaseless longing for her sister,
how could she 'make the house cheerful' when all its light and
warmth and beauty seemed to have deserted it when Beth left the
old home for the new, and where in all the world could she 'find
some useful, happy work to do', that would take the place of the
loving service which had been its own reward? She tried in a
blind, hopeless way to do her duty, secretly rebelling against
it all the while, for it seemed unjust that her few joys should
be lessened, her burdens made heavier, and life get harder and
harder as she toiled along. Some people seemed to get all sunshine,
and some all shadow. It was not fair, for she tried more
than Amy to be good, but never got any reward, only disappointment,
trouble and hard work.
Poor Jo, these were dark days to her, for something like
despair came over her when she thought of spending all her life
in that quiet house, devoted to humdrum cares, a few small pleasures,
and the duty that never seemed to grow any easier. "I can't do it.
I wasn't meant for a life like this, and I know I shall break away
and do something desperate if somebody doesn't come and help me,"
she said to herself, when her first efforts failed and she fell
into the moody, miserable state of mind which often comes when
strong wills have to yield to the inevitable.
But someone did come and help her, though Jo did not recognize
her good angels at once because they wore familiar shapes and used
the simple spells best fitted to poor humanity. Often she started
up at night, thinking Beth called her, and when the sight of the
little empty bed made her cry with the bitter cry of unsubmissive
sorrow, "Oh, Beth, come back! Come back!" she did not stretch out
her yearning arms in vain. For, as quick to hear her sobbing as
she had been to hear her sister's faintest whisper, her mother came
to comfort her, not with words only, but the patient tenderness
that soothes by a touch, tears that were mute reminders of a greater
grief than Jo's, and broken whispers, more eloquent than prayers,
because hopeful resignation went hand-in-hand with natural sorrow.
Sacred moments, when heart talked to heart in the silence of the
night, turning affliction to a blessing, which chastened grief and
strengthned love. Feeling this, Jo's burden seemed easier to bear,
duty grew sweeter, and life looked more endurable, seen from the
safe shelter of her mother's arms.
When aching heart was a little comforted, troubled mind likewise
found help, for one day she went to the study, and leaning
over the good gray head lifted to welcome her with a tranquil smile,
she said very humbly, "Father, talk to me as you did to Beth. I
need it more than she did, for I'm all wrong."
"My dear, nothing can comfort me like this," he answered,
with a falter in his voice, and both arms round her, as if he too,
needed help, and did not fear to ask for it.
Then, sitting in Beth's little chair close beside him, Jo told
her troubles, the resentful sorrow for her loss, the fruitless
efforts that discouraged her, the want of faith that made life look
so dark, and all the sad bewilderment which we call despair. She
gave him entire confidence, he gave her the help she needed, and
both found consolation in the act. For the time had come when they
could talk together not only as father and daughter, but as man and
woman, able and glad to serve each other with mutual sympathy as well
as mutual love. Happy, thoughtful times there in the old study which
Jo called 'the church of one member', and from which she came with
fresh courage, recovered cheerfulness, and a more submissive spirit.
For the parents who had taught one child to meet death without fear,
were trying now to teach another to accept life without despondency
or distrust, and to use its beautiful opportunities with gratitude
Other helps had Jo--humble, wholesome duties and delights that
would not be denied their part in serving her, and which she slowly
learned to see and value. Brooms and dishcloths never could
be as distasteful as they once had been, for Beth had presided
over both, and something of her housewifely spirit seemed to
linger around the little mop and the old brush, never thrown
away. As she used them, Jo found herself humming the songs
Beth used to hum, imitating Beth's orderly ways, and giving the
little touches here and there that kept everything fresh and
cozy, which was the first step toward making home happy, though
she didn't know it till Hannah said with an approving squeeze
of the hand . . .
"You thoughtful creeter, you're determined we shan't miss
that dear lamb ef you can help it. We don't say much, but we
see it, and the Lord will bless you for't, see ef He don't."
As they sat sewing together, Jo discovered how much improved
her sister Meg was, how well she could talk, how much she knew
about good, womanly impulses, thoughts, and feelings, how happy
she was in husband and children, and how much they were all doing
for each other.
"Marriage is an excellent thing, after all. I wonder if I should
blossom out half as well as you have, if I tried it?, always
_'perwisin'_ I could," said Jo, as she constructed a kite for Demi
in the topsy-turvy nursery.
"It's just what you need to bring out the tender womanly half
of your nature, Jo. You are like a chestnut burr, prickly outside,
but silky-soft within, and a sweet kernal, if one can only get at
it. Love will make you show your heart one day, and then the rough
burr will fall off."
"Frost opens chestnut burrs, ma'am, and it takes a good shake
to bring them down. Boys go nutting, and I don't care to be bagged
by them," returned Jo, pasting away at the kite which no wind that
blows would ever carry up, for Daisy had tied herself on as a bob.
Meg laughed, for she was glad to see a glimmer of Jo's old spirit,
but she felt it her duty to enforce her opinion by every argument in
her power, and the sisterly chats were not wasted, especially as two
of Meg's most effective arguments were the babies, whom Jo loved
tenderly. Grief is the best opener of some hearts, and Jo's was
nearly ready for the bag. A little more sunshine to ripen the nut,
then, not a boy's impatient shake, but a man's hand reached up to
pick it gently from the burr, and find the kernal sound and sweet.
If she suspected this, she would have shut up tight, and been more
prickly than ever, fortunately she wasn't thinking about herself, so
when the time came, down she dropped.
Now, if she had been the heroine of a moral storybook, she
ought at this period of her life to have become quite saintly,
renounced the world, and gone about doing good in a mortified
bonnet, with tracts in her pocket. But, you see, Jo wasn't a
heroine, she was only a struggling human girl like hundreds of
others, and she just acted out her nature, being sad, cross, listless,
or energetic, as the mood suggested. It's highly virtuous
to say we'll be good, but we can't do it all at once, and it takes
a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together before some
of us even get our feet set in the right way. Jo had got so far,
she was learning to do her duty, and to feel unhappy if she did
not, but to do it cheerfully, ah, that was another thing! She
had often said she wanted to do something splendid, no matter how
hard, and now she had her wish, for what could be more beautiful
than to devote her life to Father and Mother, trying to make home
as happy to them as they had to her? And if difficulties were
necessary to increase the splendor of the effort, what could be
harder for a restless, ambitious girl than to give up her own
hopes, plans, and desires, and cheerfully live for others?
Providence had taken her at her word. Here was the task, not
what she had expected, but better because self had no part in it.
Now, could she do it? She decided that she would try, and in her
first attempt she found the helps I have suggested. Still another
was given her, and she took it, not as a reward, but as a comfort,
as Christian took the refreshment afforded by the little arbor
where he rested, as he climbed the hill called Difficulty.
"Why don't you write? That always used to make you happy,"
said her mother once, when the desponding fit over-shadowed Jo.
"I've no heart to write, and if I had, nobody cares for my
"We do. Write something for us, and never mind the rest of
the world. Try it, dear. I'm sure it would do you good, and
please us very much."
"Don't believe I can." But Jo got out her desk and began to
overhaul her half-finished manuscripts.
An hour afterward her mother peeped in and there she was, scratching
away, with her black pinafore on, and an absorbed expression, which
caused Mrs. March to smile and slip away, well pleased with the
success of her suggestion. Jo never knew how it happened, but
something got into that story that went straight to the hearts of
those who read it, for when her family had laughed and cried over
it, her father sent it, much against her will, to one of the popular
magazines, and to her utter surprise, it was not only paid for, but
others requested. Letters from several persons, whose praise was
honor, followed the appearance of the little story, newspapers
copied it, and strangers as well as friends admired it. For a small
thing it was a great success, and Jo was more astonished than when
her novel was commended and condemned all at once.
"I don't understand it. What can there be in a simple little
story like that to make people praise it so?" she said, quite
"There is truth in it, Jo, that's the secret. Humor and pathos
make it alive, and you have found your style at last. You wrote
with no thoughts of fame and money, and put your heart into it,
my daughter. You have had the bitter, now comes the sweet. Do
your best, and grow as happy as we are in your success."
"If there is anything good or true in what I write, it isn't
mine. I owe it all to you and Mother and Beth," said Jo, more
touched by her father's words than by any amount of praise from
So taught by love and sorrow, Jo wrote her little stories,
and sent them away to make friends for themselves and her, finding
it a very charitable world to such humble wanderers, for they were
kindly welcomed, and sent home comfortable tokens to their mother,
like dutiful children whom good fortune overtakes.
When Amy and Laurie wrote of their engagement, Mrs. March
feared that Jo would find it difficult to rejoice over it, but
her fears were soon set at rest, for though Jo looked grave at
first, she took it very quietly, and was full of hopes and plans
for 'the children' before she read the letter twice. It was a
sort of written duet, wherein each glorified the other in loverlike
fashion, very pleasant to read and satisfactory to think of,
for no one had any objection to make.
"You like it, Mother?" said Jo, as they laid down the closely
written sheets and looked at one another.
"Yes, I hoped it would be so, ever since Amy wrote that she
had refused Fred. I felt sure then that something better than
what you call the 'mercenary spirit' had come over her, and a
hint here and there in her letters made me suspect that love
and Laurie would win the day."
"How sharp you are, Marmee, and how silent! You never said
a word to me."
"Mothers have need of sharp eyes and discreet tongues when
they have girls to manage. I was half afraid to put the idea
into your head, lest you should write and congratulate them before
the thing was settled."
"I'm not the scatterbrain I was. You may trust me. I'm
sober and sensible enough for anyone's confidante now."
"So you are, my dear, and I should have made you mine,
only I fancied it might pain you to learn that your Teddy loved
"Now, Mother, did you really think I could be so silly and
selfish, after I'd refused his love, when it was freshest, if not
"I knew you were sincere then, Jo, but lately I have thought
that if he came back, and asked again, you might perhaps, feel like
giving another answer. Forgive me, dear, I can't help seeing that
you are very lonely, and sometimes there is a hungry look in your
eyes that goes to my heart. So I fancied that your boy might fill
the empty place if he tried now."
"No, Mother, it is better as it is, and I'm glad Amy has learned to
love him. But you are right in one thing. I am lonely, and perhaps
if Teddy had tried again, I might have said 'Yes', not because I
love him any more, but because I care more to be loved than when he
"I'm glad of that, Jo, for it shows that you are getting on.
There are plenty to love you, so try to be satisfied with Father
and Mother, sisters and brothers, friends and babies, till the
best lover of all comes to give you your reward."
"Mothers are the best lovers in the world, but I don't mind
whispering to Marmee that I'd like to try all kinds. It's very
curious, but the more I try to satisfy myself with all sorts of
natural affections, the more I seem to want. I'd no idea hearts
could take in so many. Mine is so elastic, it never seems full
now, and I used to be quite contented with my family. I don't
"I do," and Mrs. March smiled her wise smile, as Jo turned
back the leaves to read what Amy said of Laurie.
"It is so beautiful to be loved as Laurie loves me. He isn't
sentimental, doesn't say much about it, but I see and feel it in
all he says and does, and it makes me so happy and so humble that
I don't seem to be the same girl I was. I never knew how good and
generous and tender he was till now, for he lets me read his heart,
and I find it full of noble impulses and hopes and purposes, and
am so proud to know it's mine. He says he feels as if he 'could
make a prosperous voyage now with me aboard as mate, and lots of
love for ballast'. I pray he may, and try to be all he believes
me, for I love my gallant captain with all my heart and soul and
might, and never will desert him, while God lets us be together.
Oh, Mother, I never knew how much like heaven this world could be,
when two people love and live for one another!"
"And that's our cool, reserved, and worldly Amy! Truly, love
does work miracles. How very, very happy they must be!" and Jo
laid the rustling sheets together with a careful hand, as one
might shut the covers of a lovely romance, which holds the reader
fast till the end comes, and he finds himself alone in the workaday
By-and-by Jo roamed away upstairs, for it was rainy, and she
could not walk. A restless spirit possessed her, and the old
feeling came again, not bitter as it once was, but a sorrowfully
patient wonder why one sister should have all she asked, the other
nothing. It was not true, she knew that and tried to put it away,
but the natural craving for affection was strong, and Amy's happiness
woke the hungry longing for someone to 'love with heart
and soul, and cling to while God let them be together'.
Up in the garret, where Jo's unquiet wanderings ended stood
four little wooden chests in a row, each marked with its owners
name, and each filled with relics of the childhood and girlhood
ended now for all. Jo glanced into them, and when she came to
her own, leaned her chin on the edge, and stared absently at the
chaotic collection, till a bundle of old exercise books caught
her eye. She drew them out, turned them over, and relived that
pleasant winter at kind Mrs. Kirke's. She had smiled at first,
then she looked thoughtful, next sad, and when she came to a
little message written in the Professor's hand, her lips began
to tremble, the books slid out of her lap, and she sat looking
at the friendly words, as they took a new meaning, and touched
a tender spot in her heart.
"Wait for me, my friend. I may be a little late, but I shall
"Oh, if he only would! So kind, so good, so patient with me
always, my dear old Fritz. I didn't value him half enough when I
had him, but now how I should love to see him, for everyone seems
going away from me, and I'm all alone."
And holding the little paper fast, as if it were a promise
yet to be fulfilled, Jo laid her head down on a comfortable rag
bag, and cried, as if in opposition to the rain pattering on the
Was it all self-pity, loneliness, or low spirits? Or was it
the waking up of a sentiment which had bided its time as patiently
as its inspirer? Who shall say?
Jo was alone in the twilight, lying on the old sofa, looking
at the fire, and thinking. It was her favorite way of spending
the hour of dusk. No one disturbed her, and she used to lie
there on Beth's little red pillow, planning stories, dreaming
dreams, or thinking tender thoughts of the sister who never seemed
far away. Her face looked tired, grave, and rather sad, for tomorrow
was her birthday, and she was thinking how fast the years
went by, how old she was getting, and how little she seemed to
have accomplished. Almost twenty-five, and nothing to show for
it. Jo was mistaken in that. There was a good deal to show,
and by-and-by she saw, and was grateful for it.
"An old maid, that's what I'm to be. A literary spinster,
with a pen for a spouse, a family of stories for children, and
twenty years hence a morsel of fame, perhaps, when, like poor
Johnson, I'm old and can't enjoy it, solitary, and can't share
it, independent, and don't need it. Well, I needn't be a sour
saint nor a selfish sinner, and, I dare say, old maids are very
comfortable when they get used to it, but . . ." and there Jo
sighed, as if the prospect was not inviting.
It seldom is, at first, and thirty seems the end of all things
to five-and-twenty. But it's not as bad as it looks, and one can
get on quite happily if one has something in one's self to fall
back upon. At twenty-five, girls begin to talk about being old
maids, but secretly resolve that they never will be. At thirty
they say nothing about it, but quietly accept the fact, and if
sensible, console themselves by remembering that they have twenty
more useful, happy years, in which they may be learning to grow
old gracefully. Don't laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for
often very tender, tragic romances are hidden away in the hearts
that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices
of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces
beautiful in God's sight. Even the sad, sour sisters should
be kindly dealt with, because they have missed the sweetest
part of life, if for no other reason. And looking at them
with compassion, not contempt, girls in their bloom should remember
that they too may miss the blossom time. That rosy cheeks
don't last forever, that silver threads will come in the bonnie
brown hair, and that, by-and-by, kindness and respect will be as
sweet as love and admiration now.
Gentlemen, which means boys, be courteous to the old maids,
no matter how poor and plain and prim, for the only chivalry
worth having is that which is the readiest to pay deference to
the old, protect the feeble, and serve womankind, regardless of
rank, age, or color. Just recollect the good aunts who have not
only lectured and fussed, but nursed and petted, too often without
thanks, the scrapes they have helped you out of, the tips
they have given you from their small store, the stitches the
patient old fingers have set for you, the steps the willing old
feet have taken, and gratefully pay the dear old ladies the little
attentions that women love to receive as long as they live. The
bright-eyed girls are quick to see such traits, and will like you
all the better for them, and if death, almost the only power that
can part mother and son, should rob you of yours, you will be sure
to find a tender welcome and maternal cherishing from some Aunt
Priscilla, who has kept the warmest corner of her lonely old heart
for 'the best nevvy in the world'.
Jo must have fallen asleep (as I dare say my reader has during
this little homily), for suddenly Laurie's ghost seemed to
stand before her, a substantial, lifelike ghost, leaning over her
with the very look he used to wear when he felt a good deal and
didn't like to show it. But, like Jenny in the ballad . . .
She could not think it he
and lay staring up at him in startled silence, till he stooped
and kissed her. Then she knew him, and flew up, crying joyfully . . .
"Oh my Teddy! Oh my Teddy!"
"Dear Jo, you are glad to see me, then?"
"Glad! My blessed boy, words can't express my gladness.
"Your mother has got her down at Meg's. We stopped there by
the way, and there was no getting my wife out of their clutches."
"Your what?" cried Jo, for Laurie uttered those two words
with an unconscious pride and satisfaction which betrayed him.
"Oh, the dickens! Now I've done it," and he looked so
guilty that Jo was down on him like a flash.
"You've gone and got married!"
"Yes, please, but I never will again," and he went down
upon his knees, with a penitent clasping of hands, and a face
full of mischief, mirth, and triumph.
"Very much so, thank you."
"Mercy on us. What dreadful thing will you do next?" and
Jo fell into her seat with a gasp.
"A characteristic, but not exactly complimentary, congratulation,"
returned Laurie, still in an abject attitude, but beaming
"What can you expect, when you take one's breath away, creeping
in like a burglar, and letting cats out of bags like that? Get
up, you ridiculous boy, and tell me all about it."
"Not a word, unless you let me come in my old place, and
promise not to barricade."
Jo laughed at that as she had not done for many a long day,
and patted the sofa invitingly, as she said in a cordial tone,
"The old pillow is up garret, and we don't need it now. So, come
and 'fess, Teddy."
"How good it sounds to hear you say 'Teddy'! No one ever calls
me that but you," and Laurie sat down with an air of great content.
"What does Amy call you?"
"That's like her. Well, you look it," and Jo's eye plainly
betrayed that she found her boy comelier than ever.
The pillow was gone, but there was a barricade, nevertheless,
a natural one, raised by time, absence, and change of heart. Both
felt it, and for a minute looked at one another as if that invisible
barrier cast a little shadow over them. It was gone directly
however, for Laurie said, with a vain attempt at dignity . . .
"Don't I look like a married man and the head of a family?"
"Not a bit, and you never will. You've grown bigger and
bonnier, but you are the same scapegrace as ever."
"Now really, Jo, you ought to treat me with more respect,"
began Laurie, who enjoyed it all immensely.
"How can I, when the mere idea of you, married and settled,
is so irresistibly funny that I can't keep sober!" answered Jo,
smiling all over her face, so infectiously that they had another
laugh, and then settled down for a good talk, quite in the pleasant
"It's no use your going out in the cold to get Amy, for
they are all coming up presently. I couldn't wait. I wanted to
be the one to tell you the grand surprise, and have 'first skim'
as we used to say when we squabbled about the cream."
"Of course you did, and spoiled your story by beginning at
the wrong end. Now, start right, and tell me how it all happened.
I'm pining to know."
"Well, I did it to please Amy," began Laurie, with a twinkle
that made Jo exclaim . . .
"Fib number one. Amy did it to please you. Go on, and tell
the truth, if you can, sir."
"Now she's beginning to marm it. Isn't it jolly to hear her?"
said Laurie to the fire, and the fire glowed and sparkled as if it
quite agreed. "It's all the same, you know, she and I being one.
We planned to come home with the Carrols, a month or more ago, but
they suddenly changed their minds, and decided to pass another
winter in Paris. But Grandpa wanted to come home. He went to please
me, and I couldn't let him go alone, neither could I leave Amy, and
Mrs. Carrol had got English notions about chaperons and such nonsense,
and wouldn't let Amy come with us. So I just settled the difficulty
by saying, 'Let's be married, and then we can do as we like'."
"Of course you did. You always have things to suit you."
"Not always," and something in Laurie's voice made Jo say
hastily . . .
"How did you ever get Aunt to agree?"
"It was hard work, but between us, we talked her over, for we
had heaps of good reasons on our side. There wasn't time to write
and ask leave, but you all liked it, had consented to it by-and-by,
and it was only 'taking time by the fetlock', as my wife says."
"Aren't we proud of those two words, and don't we like to say
them?" interrupted Jo, addressing the fire in her turn, and watching
with delight the happy light it seemed to kindle in the eyes
that had been so tragically gloomy when she saw them last.
"A trifle, perhaps, she's such a captivating little woman I
can't help being proud of her. Well, then Uncle and Aunt were
there to play propriety. We were so absorbed in one another we
were of no mortal use apart, and that charming arrangement would
make everything easy all round, so we did it."
"When, where, how?" asked Jo, in a fever of feminine interest
and curiosity, for she could not realize it a particle.
"Six weeks ago, at the American consul's, in Paris, a very
quiet wedding of course, for even in our happiness we didn't forget
dear little Beth."
Jo put her hand in his as he said that, and Laurie gently
smoothed the little red pillow, which he remembered well.
"Why didn't you let us know afterward?" asked Jo, in a
quieter tone, when they had sat quite still a minute.
"We wanted to surprise you. We thought we were coming
directly home, at first, but the dear old gentleman, as soon as
we were married, found he couldn't be ready under a month, at
least, and sent us off to spend our honeymoon wherever we liked.
Amy had once called Valrosa a regular honeymoon home, so we went
there, and were as happy as people are but once in their lives.
My faith! Wasn't it love among the roses!"
Laurie seemed to forget Jo for a minute, and Jo was glad of
it, for the fact that he told her these things so freely and so
naturally assured her that he had quite forgiven and forgotten.
She tried to draw away her hand, but as if he guessed the thought
that prompted the half-involuntary impulse, Laurie held it fast,
and said, with a manly gravity she had never seen in him before . . .
"Jo, dear, I want to say one thing, and then we'll put it by
forever. As I told you in my letter when I wrote that Amy had
been so kind to me, I never shall stop loving you, but the love
is altered, and I have learned to see that it is better as it is.
Amy and you changed places in my heart, that's all. I think it
was meant to be so, and would have come about naturally, if I had
waited, as you tried to make me, but I never could be patient, and
so I got a heartache. I was a boy then, headstrong and violent,
and it took a hard lesson to show me my mistake. For it was one,
Jo, as you said, and I found it out, after making a fool of myself.
Upon my word, I was so tumbled up in my mind, at one time, that I
didn't know which I loved best, you or Amy, and tried to love you
both alike. But I couldn't, and when I saw her in Switzerland,
everything seemed to clear up all at once. You both got into
your right places, and I felt sure that it was well off with the
old love before it was on with the new, that I could honestly
share my heart between sister Jo and wife Amy, and love them dearly.
Will you believe it, and go back to the happy old times when we
first knew one another?"
"I'll believe it, with all my heart, but, Teddy, we never can
be boy and girl again. The happy old times can't come back, and we
mustn't expect it. We are man and woman now, with sober work to do,
for playtime is over, and we must give up frolicking. I'm sure you
feel this. I see the change in you, and you'll find it in me. I
shall miss my boy, but I shall love the man as much, and admire
him more, because he means to be what I hoped he would. We can't
be little playmates any longer, but we will be brother and sister,
to love and help one another all our lives, won't we, Laurie?"
He did not say a word, but took the hand she offered him, and
laid his face down on it for a minute, feeling that out of the
grave of a boyish passion, there had risen a beautiful, strong
friendship to bless them both. Presently Jo said cheerfully, for
she didn't want the coming home to be a sad one, "I can't make it true
that you children are really married and going to set up housekeeping.
Why, it seems only yesterday that I was buttoning Amy's pinafore,
and pulling your hair when you teased. Mercy me, how time does fly!"
"As one of the children is older than yourself, you needn't
talk so like a grandma. I flatter myself I'm a 'gentleman growed'
as Peggotty said of David, and when you see Amy, you'll find her
rather a precocious infant," said Laurie, looking amused at her
"You may be a little older in years, but I'm ever so much
older in feeling, Teddy. Women always are, and this last year has
been such a hard one that I feel forty."
"Poor Jo! We left you to bear it alone, while we went pleasuring.
You are older. Here's a line, and there's another. Unless you smile,
your eyes look sad, and when I touched the cushion, just now,
I found a tear on it. You've had a great deal to bear,
and had to bear it all alone. What a selfish beast I've been!"
and Laurie pulled his own hair, with a remorseful look.
But Jo only turned over the traitorous pillow, and answered,
in a tone which she tried to make more cheerful, "No, I had Father
and Mother to help me, and the dear babies to comfort me, and the
thought that you and Amy were safe and happy, to make the troubles
here easier to bear. I am lonely, sometimes, but I dare say it's
good for me, and . . ."
"You never shall be again," broke in Laurie, putting his arm
about her, as if to fence out every human ill. "Amy and I can't
get on without you, so you must come and teach 'the children' to
keep house, and go halves in everything, just as we used to do,
and let us pet you, and all be blissfully happy and friendly
"If I shouldn't be in the way, it would be very pleasant. I
begin to feel quite young already, for somehow all my troubles
seemed to fly away when you came. You always were a comfort, Teddy,"
and Jo leaned her head on his shoulder, just as she did years ago,
when Beth lay ill and Laurie told her to hold on to him.
He looked down at her, wondering if she remembered the time,
but Jo was smiling to herself, as if in truth her troubles had
all vanished at his coming.
"You are the same Jo still, dropping tears about one minute,
and laughing the next. You look a little wicked now. What is it,
"I was wondering how you and Amy get on together."
"Yes, of course, but which rules?"
"I don't mind telling you that she does now, at least I let
her think so, it pleases her, you know. By-and-by we shall take
turns, for marriage, they say, halves one's rights and doubles
"You'll go on as you begin, and Amy will rule you all the
days of your life."
"Well, she does it so imperceptibly that I don't think I shall
mind much. She is the sort of woman who knows how to rule well. In
fact, I rather like it, for she winds one round her finger as softly
and prettily as a skein of silk, and makes you feel as if she was
doing you a favor all the while."
"That ever I should live to see you a henpecked husband and
enjoying it!" cried Jo, with uplifted hands.
It was good to see Laurie square his shoulders, and smile with
masculine scorn at that insinuation, as he replied, with his "high
and mighty" air, "Amy is too well-bred for that, and I am not the
sort of man to submit to it. My wife and I respect ourselves and
one another too much ever to tyrannize or quarrel."
Jo liked that, and thought the new dignity very becoming, but
the boy seemed changing very fast into the man, and regret mingled
with her pleasure.
"I am sure of that. Amy and you never did quarrel as we used to.
She is the sun and I the wind, in the fable, and the sun managed
the man best, you remember."
"She can blow him up as well as shine on him," laughed Laurie.
"such a lecture as I got at Nice! I give you my word it was a deal
worse than any of your scoldings, a regular rouser. I'll tell you
all about it sometime, she never will, because after telling me that
she despised and was ashamed of me, she lost her heart to the despicable
party and married the good-for-nothing."
"What baseness! Well, if she abuses you, come to me, and I'll
"I look as if I needed it, don't I?" said Laurie, getting up
and striking an attitude which suddenly changed from the imposing
to the rapturous, as Amy's voice was heard calling, "Where is she?
Where's my dear old Jo?"
In trooped the whole family, and everyone was hugged and kissed
all over again, and after several vain attempts, the three wanderers
were set down to be looked at and exulted over. Mr. Laurence, hale
and hearty as ever, was quite as much improved as the others by his
foreign tour, for the crustiness seemed to be nearly gone, and the
old-fashioned courtliness had received a polish which made it kindlier
than ever. It was good to see him beam at 'my children', as he
called the young pair. It was better still to see Amy pay him
the daughterly duty and affection which completely won his old heart,
and best of all, to watch Laurie revolve about the two, as if never
tired of enjoying the pretty picture they made.
The minute she put her eyes upon Amy, Meg became conscious that
her own dress hadn't a Parisian air, that young Mrs. Mofffat would be
entirely eclipsed by young Mrs. Laurence, and that 'her ladyship' was
altogether a most elegant and graceful woman. Jo thought, as she
watched the pair, "How well they look together! I was right, and
Laurie has found the beautiful, accomplished girl who will become
his home better than clumsy old Jo, and be a pride, not a torment to
him." Mrs. March and her husband smiled and nodded at each other
with happy faces, for they saw that their youngest had done well,
not only in worldly things, but the better wealth of love, confidence,
For Amy's face was full of the soft brightness which betokens
a peaceful heart, her voice had a new tenderness in it, and the cool,
prim carriage was changed to a gentle dignity, both womanly and winning.
No little affectations marred it, and the cordial sweetness
of her manner was more charming than the new beauty or the old grace,
for it stamped her at once with the unmistakable sign of the true
gentlewoman she had hoped to become.
"Love has done much for our little girl," said her mother softly.
"She has had a good example before her all her life, my dear,"
Mr. March whispered back, with a loving look at the worn face and
gray head beside him.
Daisy found it impossible to keep her eyes off her 'pitty aunty',
but attached herself like a lap dog to the wonderful chatelaine full
of delightful charms. Demi paused to consider the new relationship
before he compromised himself by the rash acceptance of a bribe,
which took the tempting form of a family of wooden bears from Berne.
A flank movement produced an unconditional surrender, however, for
Laurie knew where to have him.
"Young man, when I first had the honor of making your acquaintance
you hit me in the face. Now I demand the satisfaction of a
gentleman," and with that the tall uncle proceeded to toss and
tousle the small nephew in a way that damaged his philosophical
dignity as much as it delighted his boyish soul.
"Blest if she ain't in silk from head to foot; ain't it a relishin'
sight to see her settin' there as fine as a fiddle, and hear folks
calling little Amy 'Mis. Laurence!'" muttered old Hannah, who could
not resist frequent "peeks" through the slide as she set the table
in a most decidedly promiscuous manner.
Mercy on us, how they did talk! first one, then the other, then all
burst out together--trying to tell the history of three years in
half an hour. It was fortunate that tea was at hand, to produce a
lull and provide refreshment--for they would have been hoarse and
faint if they had gone on much longer. Such a happy procession as
filed away into the little dining room! Mr. March proudly escorted
Mrs. Laurence. Mrs. March as proudly leaned on the arm of 'my son'.
The old gentleman took Jo, with a whispered, "You must be my girl
now," and a glance at the empty corner by the fire, that made Jo
whisper back, "I'll try to fill her place, sir."
The twins pranced behind, feeling that the millennium was at
hand, for everyone was so busy with the newcomers that they were
left to revel at their own sweet will, and you may be sure they
made the most of the opportunity. Didn't they steal sips of tea,
stuff gingerbread ad libitum, get a hot biscuit apiece, and as a
crowning trespass, didn't they each whisk a captivating little tart
into their tiny pockets, there to stick and crumble treacherously,
teaching them that both human nature and a pastry are frail?
Burdened with the guilty consciousness of the sequestered tarts,
and fearing that Dodo's sharp eyes would pierce the thin disguise of
cambric and merino which hid their booty, the little sinners
attached themselves to 'Dranpa', who hadn't his spectacles on. Amy,
who was handed about like refreshments, returned to the parlor on
Father Laurence's arm. The others paired off as before, and this
arrangement left Jo companionless. She did not mind it at the
minute, for she lingered to answer Hannah's eager inquiry.
"Will Miss Amy ride in her coop (coupe), and use all them
lovely silver dishes that's stored away over yander?"
"Shouldn't wonder if she drove six white horses, ate off gold
plate, and wore diamonds and point lace every day. Teddy thinks
nothing too good for her," returned Jo with infinite satisfaction.
"No more there is! Will you have hash or fishballs for breakfast?"
asked Hannah, who wisely mingled poetry and prose.
"I don't care," and Jo shut the door, feeling that food was an
uncongenial topic just then. She stood a minute looking at the
party vanishing above, and as Demi's short plaid legs toiled up the
last stair, a sudden sense of loneliness came over her so strongly
that she looked about her with dim eyes, as if to find something to
lean upon, for even Teddy had deserted her. If she had known what
birthday gift was coming every minute nearer and nearer, she would
not have said to herself, "I'll weep a little weep when I go to bed.
It won't do to be dismal now." Then she drew her hand over her eyes,
for one of her boyish habits was never to know where her
handkerchief was, and had just managed to call up a smile when
there came a knock at the porch door.
She opened with hospitable haste, and started as if another
ghost had come to surprise her, for there stood a tall bearded
gentleman, beaming on her from the darkness like a midnight sun.
"Oh, Mr. Bhaer, I am so glad to see you!" cried Jo, with a
clutch, as if she feared the night would swallow him up before
she could get him in.
"And I to see Miss Marsch, but no, you haf a party," and the
Professor paused as the sound of voices and the tap of dancing
feet came down to them.
"No, we haven't, only the family. My sister and friends
have just come home, and we are all very happy. Come in, and
make one of us."
Though a very social man, I think Mr. Bhaer would have gone
decorously away, and come again another day, but how could he,
when Jo shut the door behind him, and bereft him of his hat?
Perhaps her face had something to do with it, for she forgot
to hide her joy at seeing him, and showed it with a frankness
that proved irresistible to the solitary man, whose welcome far
exceeded his boldest hopes.
"If I shall not be Monsieur de Trop, I will so gladly see
them all. You haf been ill, my friend?"
He put the question abruptly, for, as Jo hung up his coat,
the light fell on her face, and he saw a change in it.
"Not ill, but tired and sorrowful. We have had trouble
since I saw you last."
"Ah, yes, I know. My heart was sore for you when I heard
that," and he shook hands again, with such a sympathetic face
that Jo felt as if no comfort could equal the look of the kind
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