Louisa May Alcott
Part 4 out of 11
"I should be ashamed of myself if I didn't."
"He's a true John Bull. Now, Miss Sallie, you shall have
a chance without waiting to draw. I'll harrrow up your feelings
first by asking if you don't think you are something of a flirt,"
said Laurie, as Jo nodded to Fred as a sign that peace was declared.
"You impertinent boy! Of course I'm not," exclaimed Sallie,
with an air that proved the contrary.
"What do you hate most?" asked Fred.
"Spiders and rice pudding."
"What do you like best?" asked Jo.
"Dancing and French gloves."
"Well, I think Truth is a very silly play. Let's have a
sensible game of Authors to refresh our minds," proposed Jo.
Ned, Frank, and the little girls joined in this, and while it
went on, the three elders sat apart, talking. Miss Kate took out
her sketch again, and Margaret watched her, while Mr. Brooke lay
on the grass with a book, which he did not read.
"How beautifully you do it! I wish I could draw," said Meg,
with mingled admiration and regret in her voice.
"Why don't you learn? I should think you had taste and talent
for it," replied Miss Kate graciously.
"I haven't time."
"Your mamma prefers other accomplishments, I fancy. So did
mine, but I proved to her that I had talent by taking a few lessons
privately, and then she was quite willing I should go on. Can't
you do the same with your governess?"
"I have none."
"I forgot young ladies in America go to school more than with
us. Very fine schools they are, too, Papa says. You go to a
private one, I suppose?"
"I don't go at all. I am a governess myself."
"Oh, indeed!" said Miss Kate, but she might as well have said,
"Dear me, how dreadful!" for her tone implied it, and something in
her face made Meg color, and wish she had not been so frank.
Mr. Brooke looked up and said quickly, "Young ladies in America
love independence as much as their ancestors did, and are admired
and respected for supporting themselves."
"Oh, yes, of course it's very nice and proper in them to do
so. We have many most respectable and worthy young women who do
the same and are employed by the nobility, because, being the
daughters of gentlemen, they are both well bred and accomplished,
you know," said Miss Kate in a patronizing tone that hurt Meg's
pride, and made her work seem not only more distasteful, but
"Did the German song suit, Miss March?" inquired Mr. Brooke,
breaking an awkward pause.
"Oh, yes! It was very sweet, and I'm much obliged to whoever
translated it for me." And Meg's downcast face brightened as she spoke.
"Don't you read German?" asked Miss Kate with a look of surprise.
"Not very well. My father, who taught me, is away, and I don't
get on very fast alone, for I've no one to correct my pronunciation."
"Try a little now. Here is Schiller's Mary Stuart and a tutor who
loves to teach." And Mr. Brooke laid his book on her lap with
an inviting smile.
"It's so hard I'm afraid to try," said Meg, grateful, but bashful
in the presence of the accomplished young lady beside her.
"I'll read a bit to encourage you." And Miss Kate read one
of the most beautiful passages in a perfectly correct but
perfectly expressionless manner.
Mr. Brooke made no comment as she returned the book to Meg,
who said innocently, "I thought it was poetry."
"Some of it is. Try this passage."
There was a queer smile about Mr. Brooke's mouth as he
opened at poor Mary's lament.
Meg obediently following the long grass-blade which her new
tutor used to point with, read slowly and timidly, unconsciously
making poetry of the hard words by the soft intonation of her
musical voice. Down the page went the green guide, and presently,
forgetting her listener in the beauty of the sad scene, Meg read
as if alone, giving a little touch of tragedy to the words of the
unhappy queen. If she had seen the brown eyes then, she would
have stopped short, but she never looked up, and the lesson was
not spoiled for her.
"Very well indeed!" said Mr. Brooke, as she paused, quite ignoring
her many mistakes, and looking as if he did indeed love to teach.
Miss Kate put up her glass, and, having taken a survey of
the little tableau before her, shut her sketch book, saying with
condescension, "You've a nice accent and in time will be a clever
reader. I advise you to learn, for German is a valuable
accomplishment to teachers. I must look after Grace, she is romping."
And Miss Kate strolled away, adding to herself with a shrug, "I
didn't come to chaperone a governess, though she is young and
pretty. What odd people these Yankees are. I'm afraid Laurie
will be quite spoiled among them."
"I forgot that English people rather turn up their noses at
governesses and don't treat them as we do," said Meg, looking
after the retreating figure with an annoyed expression.
"Tutors also have rather a hard time of it there, as I know
to my sorrow. There's no place like America for us workers, Miss
Margaret." And Mr. Brooke looked so contented and cheerful that
Meg was ashamed to lament her hard lot.
"I'm glad I live in it then. I don't like my work, but I get
a good deal of satisfaction out of it after all, so I won't complain.
I only wished I liked teaching as you do."
"I think you would if you had Laurie for a pupil. I shall
be very sorry to lose him next year," said Mr. Brooke, busily
punching holes in the turf.
"Going to college, I suppose?" Meg's lips asked the question,
but her eyes added, "And what becomes of you?"
"Yes, it's high time he went, for he is ready, and as soon as
he is off, I shall turn soldier. I am needed."
"I am glad of that!" exclaimed Meg. "I should think every
young man would want to go, though it is hard for the mothers
and sisters who stay at home," she added sorrowfully.
"I have neither, and very few friends to care whether I live
or die," said Mr. Brooke rather bitterly as he absently put the
dead rose in the hole he had made and covered it up, like a
"Laurie and his grandfather would care a great deal, and we
should all be very sorry to have any harm happen to you," said
"Thank you, that sounds pleasant," began Mr. Brooke, looking
cheerful again, but before he could finish his speech, Ned, mounted
on the old horse, came lumbering up to display his equestrian skill
before the young ladies, and there was no more quiet that day.
"Don't you love to ride?" asked Grace of Amy, as they stood
resting after a race round the field with the others, led by Ned.
"I dote upon it. My sister, Meg, used to ride when Papa was
rich, but we don't keep any horses now, except Ellen Tree," added
"Tell me about Ellen Tree. Is it a donkey?" asked Grace
"Why, you see, Jo is crazy about horses and so am I, but
we've only got an old sidesaddle and no horse. Out in our
garden is an apple tree that has a nice low branch, so Jo put
the saddle on it, fixed some reins on the part that turns up,
and we bounce away on Ellen Tree whenever we like."
"How funny!" laughed Grace. "I have a pony at home, and
ride nearly every day in the park with Fred and Kate. It's very
nice, for my friends go too, and the Row is full of ladies and
"Dear, how charming! I hope I shall go abroad some day,
but I'd rather go to Rome than the Row," said Amy, who had
not the remotest idea what the Row was and wouldn't have asked
for the world.
Frank, sitting just behind the little girls, heard what they
were saying, and pushed his crutch away from him with an impatient
gesture as he watched the active lads going through all sorts of
comical gymnastics. Beth, who was collecting the scattered
Author cards, looked up and said, in her shy yet friendly way,
"I'm afraid you are tired. Can I do anything for you?"
"Talk to me, please. It's dull, sitting by myself," answered
Frank, who had evidently been used to being made much of at home.
If he asked her to deliver a Latin oration, it would not
have seemed a more impossible task to bashful Beth, but there
was no place to run to, no Jo to hide behind now, and the poor
boy looked so wistfully at her that she bravely resolved to try.
"What do you like to talk about?" she asked, fumbling over
the cards and dropping half as she tried to tie them up.
"Well, I like to hear about cricket and boating and hunting,"
said Frank, who had not yet learned to suit his amusements to
My heart! What shall I do? I don't know anything about them,
thought Beth, and forgetting the boy's misfortune in her flurry,
she said, hoping to make him talk, "I never saw any hunting, but
I suppose you know all about it."
"I did once, but I can never hunt again, for I got hurt leaping
a confounded five-barred gate, so there are no more horses and
hounds for me," said Frank with a sigh that made Beth hate herself
for her innocent blunder.
"Your deer are much prettier than our ugly buffaloes," she
said, turning to the prairies for help and feeling glad that she
had read one of the boys' books in which Jo delighted.
Buffaloes proved soothing and satisfactory, and in her eagerness
to amuse another, Beth forgot herself, and was quite unconscious
of her sisters' surprise and delight at the unusual spectacle
of Beth talking away to one of the dreadful boys, against whom she
had begged protection.
"Bless her heart! She pities him, so she is good to him,"
said Jo, beaming at her from the croquet ground.
"I always said she was a little saint," added Meg, as if
there could be no further doubt of it.
"I haven't heard Frank laugh so much for ever so long," said
Grace to Amy, as they sat discussing dolls and making tea sets
out of the acorn cups.
"My sister Beth is a very fastidious girl, when she likes to be,"
said Amy, well pleased at Beth's success. She meant 'facinating',
but as Grace didn't know the exact meaning of either word,
fastidious sounded well and made a good impression.
An impromptu circus, fox and geese, and an amicable game of
croquet finished the afternoon. At sunset the tent was struck,
hampers packed, wickets pulled up, boats loaded, and the whole
party floated down the river, singing at the tops of their voices.
Ned, getting sentimental, warbled a serenade with the pensive
refrain . . .
Alone, alone, ah! Woe, alone,
and at the lines . . .
We each are young, we each have a heart,
Oh, why should we stand thus coldly apart?
he looked at Meg with such a lackadiasical expression that she
laughed outright and spoiled his song.
"How can you be so cruel to me?" he whispered, under cover
of a lively chorus. "You've kept close to that starched-up
Englishwoman all day, and now you snub me."
"I didn't mean to, but you looked so funny I really couldn't
help it," replied Meg, passing over the first part of his reproach,
for it was quite true that she had shunned him, remembering the
Moffat party and the talk after it.
Ned was offended and turned to Sallie for consolation, saying
to her rather pettishly, "There isn't a bit of flirt in that girl,
"Not a particle, but she's a dear," returned Sallie, defending
her friend even while confessing her shortcomings.
"She's not a stricken deer anyway," said Ned, trying to be
witty, and succeeding as well as very young gentlemen usually do.
On the lawn where it had gathered, the little party separated
with cordial good nights and good-bys, for the Vaughns were going
to Canada. As the four sisters went home through the garden, Miss
Kate looked after them, saying, without the patronizing tone in
her voice, "In spite of their demonstrative manners, American girls
are very nice when one knows them."
"I quite agree with you," said Mr. Brooke.
CASTLES IN THE AIR
Laurie lay luxuriously swinging to and fro in his hammock
one warm September afternoon, wondering what his neighbors were
about, but too lazy to go and find out. He was in one of his
moods, for the day had been both unprofitable and unsatisfactory,
and he was wishing he could live it over again. The hot weather
made him indolent, and he had shirked his studies, tried Mr.
Brooke's patience to the utmost, displeased his grandfather by
practicing half the afternoon, frightened the maidservants half
out of their wits by mischievously hinting that one of his dogs
was going mad, and, after high words with the stableman about
some fancied neglect of his horse, he had flung himself into
his hammock to fume over the stupidity of the world in general,
till the peace of the lovely day quieted him in spite of himself.
Staring up into the green gloom of the horse-chestnut trees above
him, he dreamed dreams of all sorts, and was just imagining
himself tossing on the ocean in a voyage round the world,
when the sound of voices brought him ashore in a flash.
Peeping through the meshes of the hammock, he saw the Marches
coming out, as if bound on some expedition.
"What in the world are those girls about now?" thought
Laurie, opening his sleepy eyes to take a good look, for there
was something rather peculiar in the appearance of his
neighbors. Each wore a large, flapping hat, a brown linen pouch
slung over one shoulder, and carried a long staff. Meg had a
cushion, Jo a book, Beth a basket, and Amy a portfolio. All
walked quietly through the garden, out at the little back gate,
and began to climb the hill that lay between the house and river.
"Well, that's cool," said Laurie to himself, "to have a picnic
and never ask me! They can't be going in the boat, for they
haven't got the key. Perhaps they forgot it. I'll take it to them,
and see what's going on."
Though possessed of half a dozen hats, it took him some time
to find one, then there was a hunt for the key, which was at last
discovered in his pocket, so that the girls were quite out of sight
when he leaped the fence and ran after them. Taking the shortest way
to the boathouse, he waited for them to appear, but no one came,
and he went up the hill to take an observation. A grove of pines
covered one part of it, and from the heart of this green spot came
a clearer sound than the soft sigh of the pines or the drowsy chirp
of the crickets.
"Here's a landscape!" thought Laurie, peeping through the
bushes, and looking wide-awake and good-natured already.
It was a rather pretty little picture, for the sisters sat
together in the shady nook, with sun and shadow flickering over
them, the aromatic wind lifting their hair and cooling their hot
cheeks, and all the little wood people going on with their affairs
as if these were no strangers but old friends. Meg sat upon her
cushion, sewing daintily with her white hands, and looking as fresh
and sweet as a rose in her pink dress among the green. Beth was
sorting the cones that lay thick under the hemlock near by, for
she made pretty things with them. Amy was sketching a group of
ferns, and Jo was knitting as she read aloud. A shadow passed
over the boy's face as he watched them, feeling that he ought to
go away because uninvited; yet lingering because home seemed very
lonely and this quiet party in the woods most attractive to his
restless spirit. He stood so still that a squirrel, busy with its
harvesting, ran down a pine close beside him, saw him suddenly
and skipped back, scolding so shrilly that Beth looked up, espied
the wistful face behind the birches, and beckoned with a reassuring
"May I come in, please? Or shall I be a bother?" he asked,
Meg lifted her eyebrows, but Jo scowled at her defiantly and
said at once, "Of course you may. We should have asked you before,
only we thought you wouldn't care for such a girl's game as this."
"I always like your games, but if Meg doesn't want me, I'll
"I've no objection, if you do something. It's against the
rules to be idle here," replied Meg gravely but graciously.
"Much obliged. I'll do anything if you'll let me stop a bit,
for it's as dull as the Desert of Sahara down there. Shall I sew,
read, cone, draw, or do all at once? Bring on your bears.
I'm ready." And Laurie sat down with a submissive expression
delightful to behold.
"Finish this story while I set my heel," said Jo, handing him
"Yes'm." was the meek answer, as he began, doing his best to
prove his gratitude for the favor of admission into the 'Busy Bee
The story was not a long one, and when it was finished, he
ventured to ask a few questions as a reward of merit.
"Please, ma'am, could I inquire if this highly instructive
and charming institution is a new one?"
"Would you tell him?" asked Meg of her sisters.
"He'll laugh," said Amy warningly.
"Who cares?" said Jo.
"I guess he'll like it," added Beth.
"Of course I shall! I give you my word I won't laugh. Tell
away, Jo, and don't be afraid."
"The idea of being afraid of you! Well, you see we used to
play Pilgrim's Progress, and we have been going on with it in
earnest, all winter and summer."
"Yes, I know," said Laurie, nodding wisely.
"Who told you?" demanded Jo.
"No, I did. I wanted to amuse him one night when you were
all away, and he was rather dismal. He did like it, so don't
scold, Jo," said Beth meekly.
"You can't keep a secret. Never mind, it saves trouble now."
"Go on, please," said Laurie, as Jo became absorbed in her
work, looking a trifle displeased.
"Oh, didn't she tell you about this new plan of ours? Well,
we have tried not to waste our holiday, but each has had a task
and worked at it with a will. The vacation is nearly over, the
stints are all done, and we are ever so glad that we didn't dawdle."
"Yes, I should think so," and Laurie thought regretfully of
his own idle days.
"Mother likes to have us out-of-doors as much as possible, so
we bring our work here and have nice times. For the fun of it we
bring our things in these bags, wear the old hats, use poles to
climb the hill, and play pilgrims, as we used to do years ago. We
call this hill the Delectable Mountain, for we can look far away
and see the country where we hope to live some time."
Jo pointed, and Laurie sat up to examine, for through an
opening in the wood one could look cross the wide, blue river,
the meadows on the other side, far over the outskirts of the
great city, to the green hills that rose to meet the sky. The
sun was low, and the heavens glowed with the splendor of an
autumn sunset. Gold and purple clouds lay on the hilltops,
and rising high into the ruddy light were silvery white peaks
that shone like the airy spires of some Celestial City.
"How beautiful that is!" said Laurie softly, for he was quick
to see and feel beauty of any kind.
"It's often so, and we like to watch it, for it is never the
same, but always splendid," replied Amy, wishing she could paint it.
"Jo talks about the country where we hope to live sometime--the
real country, she means, with pigs and chickens and haymaking.
It would be nice, but I wish the beautiful country up there was real,
and we could ever go to it," said Beth musingly.
"There is a lovelier country even than that, where we shall go,
by-and-by, when we are good enough," answered Meg with her sweetest
"It seems so long to wait, so hard to do. I want to fly away
at once, as those swallows fly, and go in at that splendid gate."
"You'll get there, Beth, sooner or later, no fear of that,"
said Jo. "I'm the one that will have to fight and work, and climb
and wait, and maybe never get in after all."
"You'll have me for company, if that's any comfort. I shall
have to do a deal of traveling before I come in sight of your
Celestial City. If I arrive late, you'll say a good word for me,
won't you, Beth?"
Something in the boy's face troubled his little friend, but
she said cheerfully, with her quiet eyes on the changing clouds,
"If people really want to go, and really try all their lives, I
think they will get in, for I don't believe there are any locks
on that door or any guards at the gate. I always imagine it is
as it is in the picture, where the shining ones stretch out their
hands to welcome poor Christian as he comes up from the river."
"Wouldn't it be fun if all the castles in the air which we
make could come true, and we could live in them?" said Jo, after
a little pause.
"I've made such quantities it would be hard to choose which
I'd have," said Laurie, lying flat and throwing cones at the
squirrel who had betrayed him.
"You'd have to take your favorite one. What is it?" asked
"If I tell mine, will you tell yours?"
"Yes, if the girls will too."
"We will. Now, Laurie."
"After I'd seen as much of the world as I want to, I'd like
to settle in Germany and have just as much music as I choose. I'm
to be a famous musician myself, and all creation is to rush to hear
me. And I'm never to be bothered about money or business, but just
enjoy myself and live for what I like. That's my favorite castle.
What's yours, Meg?"
Margaret seemed to find it a little hard to tell hers, and
waved a brake before her face, as if to disperse imaginary gnats,
while she said slowly, "I should like a lovely house, full of all
sorts of luxurious things--nice food, pretty clothes, handsome
furniture, pleasant people, and heaps of money. I am to be
mistress of it, and manage it as I like, with plenty of servants,
so I never need work a bit. How I should enjoy it! For I wouldn't
be idle, but do good, and make everyone love me dearly."
"Wouldn't you have a master for your castle in the air?" asked
"I said 'pleasant people', you know," and Meg carefully tied
up her shoe as she spoke, so that no one saw her face.
"Why don't you say you'd have a splendid, wise, good husband
and some angelic little children? You know your castle wouldn't
be perfect without," said blunt Jo, who had no tender fancies yet,
and rather scorned romance, except in books.
"You'd have nothing but horses, inkstands, and novels in
yours," answered Meg petulantly.
"Wouldn't I though? I'd have a stable full of Arabian steeds,
rooms piled high with books, and I'd write out of a magic inkstand,
so that my works should be as famous as Laurie's music. I want to
do something splendid before I go into my castle, something heroic
or wonderful that won't be forgotten after I'm dead. I don't know
what, but I'm on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all
some day. I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous,
that would suit me, so that is my favorite dream."
"Mine is to stay at home safe with Father and Mother, and
help take care of the family," said Beth contentedly.
"Don't you wish for anything else?" asked Laurie.
"Since I had my little piano, I am perfectly satisfied. I
only wish we may all keep well and be together, nothing else."
"I have ever so many wishes, but the pet one is to be an
artist, and go to Rome, and do fine pictures, and be the best
artist in the whole world," was Amy's modest desire.
"We're an ambitious set, aren't we? Every one of us, but
Beth, wants to be rich and famous, and gorgeous in every respect.
I do wonder if any of us will ever get our wishes," said Laurie,
chewing grass like a meditative calf.
"I've got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can
unlock the door remains to be seen," observed Jo mysteriously.
"I've got the key to mine, but I'm not allowed to try it.
Hang college!" muttered Laurie with an impatient sigh.
"Here's mine!" and Amy waved her pencil.
"I haven't got any," said Meg forlornly.
"Yes, you have," said Laurie at once.
"In your face."
"Nonsense, that's of no use."
"Wait and see if it doesn't bring you something worth having,"
replied the boy, laughing at the thought of a charming little
secret which he fancied he knew.
Meg colored behind the brake, but asked no questions and
looked across the river with the same expectant expression which
Mr. Brooke had worn when he told the story of the knight.
"If we are all alive ten years hence, let's meet, and see how
many of us have got our wishes, or how much nearer we are then than
now," said Jo, always ready with a plan.
"Bless me! How old I shall be, twenty-seven!" exclaimed Meg,
who felt grown up already, having just reached seventeen.
"You and I will be twenty-six, Teddy, Beth twenty-four, and
Amy twenty-two. What a venerable party!" said Jo.
"I hope I shall have done something to be proud of by that
time, but I'm such a lazy dog, I'm afraid I shall dawdle, Jo."
"You need a motive, Mother says, and when you get it, she is
sure you'll work splendidly."
"Is she? By Jupiter, I will, if I only get the chance!" cried
Laurie, sitting up with sudden energy. "I ought to be satisfied to
please Grandfather, and I do try, but it's working against the grain,
you see, and comes hard. He wants me to be an India merchant, as he
was, and I'd rather be shot. I hate tea and silk and spices, and
every sort of rubbish his old ships bring, and I don't care how soon
they go to the bottom when I own them. Going to college ought to
satisfy him, for if I give him four years he ought to let me off
from the business. But he's set, and I've got to do just as he did,
unless I break away and please myself, as my father did. If there
was anyone left to stay with the old gentleman, I'd do it tomorrow."
Laurie spoke excitedly, and looked ready to carry his threat
into execution on the slightest provocation, for he was growing up
very fast and, in spite of his indolent ways, had a young man's
hatred of subjection, a young man's restless longing to try the
world for himself.
"I advise you to sail away in one of your ships, and never
come home again till you have tried your own way," said Jo, whose
imagination was fired by the thought of such a daring exploit, and
whose sympathy was excited by what she called 'Teddy's Wrongs'.
"That's not right, Jo. You mustn't talk in that way, and Laurie
mustn't take your bad advice. You should do just what your
grandfather wishes, my dear boy," said Meg in her most maternal tone.
"Do your best at college, and when he sees that you try to please him,
I'm sure he won't be hard on you or unjust to you. As you say, there
is no one else to stay with and love him, and you'd never forgive
yourself if you left him without his permission. Don't be dismal or
fret, but do your duty and you'll get your reward, as good Mr. Brooke
has, by being respected and loved."
"What do you know about him?" asked Laurie, grateful for the
good advice, but objecting to the lecture, and glad to turn the
conversation from himself after his unusual outbreak.
"Only what your grandpa told us about him, how he took good
care of his own mother till she died, and wouldn't go abroad as
tutor to some nice person because he wouldn't leave her. And how
he provides now for an old woman who nursed his mother, and never
tells anyone, but is just as generous and patient and good as he
"So he is, dear old fellow!" said Laurie heartily, as Meg
paused, looking flushed and earnest with her story. "It's like
Grandpa to find out all about him without letting him know, and
to tell all his goodness to others, so that they might like him.
Brooke couldn't understand why your mother was so kind to him,
asking him over with me and treating him in her beautiful friendly
way. He thought she was just perfect, and talked about it for
days and days, and went on about you all in flaming style. If ever
I do get my wish, you see what I'll do for Brooke."
"Begin to do something now by not plaguing his life out,"
said Meg sharply.
"How do you know I do, Miss?"
"I can always tell by his face when he goes away. If you
have been good, he looks satisfied and walks briskly. If you
have plagued him, he's sober and walks slowly, as if he wanted
to go back and do his work better."
"Well, I like that? So you keep an account of my good and
bad marks in Brooke's face, do you? I see him bow and smile as
he passes your window, but I didn't know you'd got up a telegraph."
"We haven't. Don't be angry, and oh, don't tell him I said
anything! It was only to show that I cared how you get on, and
what is said here is said in confidence, you know," cried Meg,
much alarmed at the thought of what might follow from her
"I don't tell tales," replied Laurie, with his 'high and mighty'
air, as Jo called a certain expression which he occasionally wore.
"Only if Brooke is going to be a thermometer, I must mind and have
fair weather for him to report."
"Please don't be offended. I didn't mean to preach or tell
tales or be silly. I only thought Jo was encouraging you in a
feeling which you'd be sorry for by-and-by. You are so kind to
us, we feel as if you were our brother and say just what we think.
Forgive me, I meant it kindly." And Meg offered her hand with a
gesture both affectionate and timid.
Ashamed of his momentary pique, Laurie squeezed the kind
little hand, and said frankly, "I'm the one to be forgiven. I'm
cross and have been out of sorts all day. I like to have you
tell me my faults and be sisterly, so don't mind if I am grumpy
sometimes. I thank you all the same."
Bent on showing that he was not offended, he made himself as
agreeable as possible, wound cotton for Meg, recited poetry to
please Jo, shook down cones for Beth, and helped Amy with her
ferns, proving himself a fit person to belong to the 'Busy Bee
Society'. In the midst of an animated discussion on the domestic
habits of turtles (one of those amiable creatures having strolled
up from the river), the faint sound of a bell warned them that
Hannah had put the tea 'to draw', and they would just have time
to get home to supper.
"May I come again?" asked Laurie.
"Yes, if you are good, and love your book, as the boys in
the primer are told to do," said Meg, smiling.
"Then you may come, and I'll teach you to knit as the Scotchmen do.
There's a demand for socks just now," added Jo, waving hers
like a big blue worsted banner as they parted at the gate.
That night, when Beth played to Mr. Laurence in the twilight,
Laurie, standing in the shadow of the curtain, listened to the
little David, whose simple music always quieted his moody spirit,
and watched the old man, who sat with his gray head on his hand,
thinking tender thoughts of the dead child he had loved so much.
Remembering the conversation of the afternoon, the boy said to
himself, with the resolve to make the sacrifice cheerfully, "I'll
let my castle go, and stay with the dear old gentleman while he
needs me, for I am all he has."
Jo was very busy in the garret, for the October days began
to grow chilly, and the afternoons were short. For two or three
hours the sun lay warmly in the high window, showing Jo seated
on the old sofa, writing busily, with her papers spread out
upon a trunk before her, while Scrabble, the pet rat,
promenaded the beams overhead, accompanied by his oldest son,
a fine young fellow, who was evidently very proud of his whiskers.
Quite absorbed in her work, Jo scribbled away till the last page
was filled, when she signed her name with a flourish and threw
down her pen, exclaiming . . .
"There, I've done my best! If this won't suit I shall have
to wait till I can do better."
Lying back on the sofa, she read the manuscript carefully
through, making dashes here and there, and putting in many
exclamation points, which looked like little balloons. Then she
tied it up with a smart red ribbon, and sat a minute looking at
it with a sober, wistful expression, which plainly showed how
earnest her work had been. Jo's desk up here was an old tin
kitchen which hung against the wall. In it she kept her papers,
and a few books, safely shut away from Scrabble, who, being
likewise of a literary turn, was fond of making a circulating
library of such books as were left in his way by eating the
leaves. From this tin receptacle Jo produced another manuscript,
and putting both in her pocket, crept quietly downstairs, leaving
her friends to nibble on her pens and taste her ink.
She put on her hat and jacket as noiselessly as possible, and
going to the back entry window, got out upon the roof of a low
porch, swung herself down to the grassy bank, and took a roundabout
way to the road. Once there, she composed herself, hailed a passing
omnibus, and rolled away to town, looking very merry and mysterious.
If anyone had been watching her, he would have thought her
movements decidedly peculiar, for on alighting, she went off at a
great pace till she reached a certain number in a certain busy
street. Having found the place with some difficulty, she went
into the doorway, looked up the dirty stairs, and after standing
stock still a minute, suddenly dived into the street and walked
away as rapidly as she came. This maneuver she repeated several
times, to the great amusement of a black-eyed young gentleman
lounging in the window of a building opposite. On returning for
the third time, Jo gave herself a shake, pulled her hat over her
eyes, and walked up the stairs, looking as if she were going to
have all her teeth out.
There was a dentist's sign, among others, which adorned the
entrance, and after staring a moment at the pair of artificial
jaws which slowly opened and shut to draw attention to a fine
set of teeth, the young gentleman put on his coat, took his hat,
and went down to post himself in the opposite doorway, saying
with a smile and a shiver, "It's like her to come alone, but if
she has a bad time she'll need someone to help her home."
In ten minutes Jo came running downstairs with a very red
face and the general appearance of a person who had just passed
through a trying ordeal of some sort. When she saw the young
gentleman she looked anything but pleased, and passed him with a
nod. But he followed, asking with an air of sympathy, "Did you
have a bad time?"
"You got through quickly."
"Yes, thank goodness!"
"Why did you go alone?"
"Didn't want anyone to know."
"You're the oddest fellow I ever saw. How many did you
Jo looked at her friend as if she did not understand him, then
began to laugh as if mightily amused at something.
"There are two which I want to have come out, but I must wait
"What are you laughing at? You are up to some mischief, Jo,"
said Laurie, looking mystified.
"So are you. What were you doing, sir, up in that billiard
"Begging your pardon, ma'am, it wasn't a billiard saloon, but
a gymnasium, and I was taking a lesson in fencing."
"I'm glad of that."
"You can teach me, and then when we play _Hamlet_, you can be
Laertes, and we'll make a fine thing of the fencing scene."
Laurie burst out with a hearty boy's laugh, which made
several passers-by smile in spite of themselves.
"I'll teach you whether we play _Hamlet_ or not. It's grand
fun and will straighten you up capitally. But I don't believe
that was your only reason for saying 'I'm glad' in that decided
way, was it now?"
"No, I was glad that you were not in the saloon, because I
hope you never go to such places. Do you?"
"I wish you wouldn't."
"It's no harm, Jo. I have billiards at home, but it's no fun
unless you have good players, so, as I'm fond of it, I come sometimes
and have a game with Ned Moffat or some of the other fellows."
"Oh, dear, I'm so sorry, for you'll get to liking it better and
better, and will waste time and money, and grow like those dreadful
boys. I did hope you'd stay respectable and be a satisfaction to
your friends," said Jo, shaking her head.
"Can't a fellow take a little innocent amusement now and then
without losing his respectability?" asked Laurie, looking nettled.
"That depends upon how and where he takes it. I don't like
Ned and his set, and wish you'd keep out of it. Mother won't let
us have him at our house, though he wants to come. And if you
grow like him she won't be willing to have us frolic together as
we do now."
"Won't she?" asked Laurie anxiously.
"No, she can't bear fashionable young men, and she'd shut us
all up in bandboxes rather than have us associate with them."
"Well, she needn't get out her bandboxes yet. I'm not a
fashionable party and don't mean to be, but I do like harmless
larks now and then, don't you?"
"Yes, nobody minds them, so lark away, but don't get wild,
will you? Or there will be an end of all our good times."
"I'll be a double distilled saint."
"I can't bear saints. Just be a simple, honest, respectable
boy, and we'll never desert you. I don't know what I should do
if you acted like Mr. King's son. He had plenty of money, but
didn't know how to spend it, and got tipsy and gambled, and ran
away, and forged his father's name, I believe, and was altogether
"You think I'm likely to do the same? Much obliged."
"No, I don't--oh, dear, no!--but I hear people talking about
money being such a temptation, and I sometimes wish you were poor.
I shouldn't worry then."
"Do you worry about me, Jo?"
"A little, when you look moody and discontented, as you sometimes do,
for you've got such a strong will, if you once get started wrong,
I'm afraid it would be hard to stop you."
Laurie walked in silence a few minutes, and Jo watched him,
wishing she had held her tongue, for his eyes looked angry, though
his lips smiled as if at her warnings.
"Are you going to deliver lectures all the way home?" he
"Of course not. Why?"
"Because if you are, I'll take a bus. If you're not, I'd like
to walk with you and tell you something very interesting."
"I won't preach any more, and I'd like to hear the news
"Very well, then, come on. It's a secret, and if I tell you,
you must tell me yours."
"I haven't got any," began Jo, but stopped suddenly,
remembering that she had.
"You know you have--you can't hide anything, so up and 'fess,
or I won't tell," cried Laurie.
"Is your secret a nice one?"
"Oh, isn't it! All about people you know, and such fun! You
ought to hear it, and I've been aching to tell it this long time.
Come, you begin."
"You'll not say anything about it at home, will you?"
"Not a word."
"And you won't tease me in private?"
"I never tease."
"Yes, you do. You get everything you want out of people. I
don't know how you do it, but you are a born wheedler."
"Thank you. Fire away."
"Well, I've left two stories with a newspaperman, and he's to
give his answer next week," whispered Jo, in her confidant's ear.
"Hurrah for Miss March, the celebrated American authoress!"
cried Laurie, throwing up his hat and catching it again, to the
great delight of two ducks, four cats, five hens, and half a
dozen Irish children, for they were out of the city now.
"Hush! It won't come to anything, I dare say, but I couldn't
rest till I had tried, and I said nothing about it because I didn't
want anyone else to be disappointed."
"It won't fail. Why, Jo, your stories are works of Shakespeare
compared to half the rubbish that is published every day.
Won't it be fun to see them in print, and shan't we feel proud of
Jo's eyes sparkled, for it is always pleasant to be believed
in, and a friend's praise is always sweeter than a dozen newspaper
"Where's your secret? Play fair, Teddy, or I'll never believe
you again," she said, trying to extinguish the brilliant hopes that
blazed up at a word of encouragement.
"I may get into a scrape for telling, but I didn't promise
not to, so I will, for I never feel easy in my mind till I've told
you any plummy bit of news I get. I know where Meg's glove is."
"Is that all?" said Jo, looking disappointed, as Laurie nodded
and twinkled with a face full of mysterious intelligence.
"It's quite enough for the present, as you'll agree when I
tell you where it is."
Laurie bent, and whispered three words in Jo's ear, which
produced a comical change. She stood and stared at him for a
minute, looking both surprised and displeased, then walked on,
saying sharply, "How do you know?"
"All this time?"
"Yes, isn't that romantic?"
"No, it's horrid."
"Don't you like it?"
"Of course I don't. It's ridiculous, it won't be allowed. My
patience! What would Meg say?"
"You are not to tell anyone. Mind that."
"I didn't promise."
"That was understood, and I trusted you."
"Well, I won't for the present, anyway, but I'm disgusted, and
wish you hadn't told me."
"I thought you'd be pleased."
"At the idea of anybody coming to take Meg away? No, thank you."
"You'll feel better about it when somebody comes to take you
"I'd like to see anyone try it," cried Jo fiercely.
"So should I!" and Laurie chuckled at the idea.
"I don't think secrets agree with me, I feel rumpled up in
my mind since you told me that," said Jo rather ungratefully.
"Race down this hill with me, and you'll be all right,"
No one was in sight, the smooth road sloped invitingly before
her, and finding the temptation irresistible, Jo darted away, soon
leaving hat and comb behind her and scattering hairpins as she ran.
Laurie reached the goal first and was quite satisfied with the
success of his treatment, for his Atlanta came panting up
with flying hair, bright eyes, ruddy cheeks, and no signs of
dissatisfaction in her face.
"I wish I was a horse, then I could run for miles in this
splendid air, and not lose my breath. It was capital, but see
what a guy it's made me. Go, pick up my things, like a cherub,
as you are," said Jo, dropping down under a maple tree, which
was carpeting the bank with crimson leaves.
Laurie leisurely departed to recover the lost property, and
Jo bundled up her braids, hoping no one would pass by till she
was tidy again. But someone did pass, and who should it be but
Meg, looking particularly ladylike in her state and festival
suit, for she had been making calls.
"What in the world are you doing here?" she asked, regarding
her disheveled sister with well-bred surprise.
"Getting leaves," meekly answered Jo, sorting the rosy handful
she had just swept up.
"And hairpins," added Laurie, throwing half a dozen into Jo's
lap. "They grow on this road, Meg, so do combs and brown straw
"You have been running, Jo. How could you? When will you stop
such romping ways?" said Meg reprovingly, as she settled her cuffs
and smoothed her hair, with which the wind had taken liberties.
"Never till I'm stiff and old and have to use a crutch. Don't
try to make me grow up before my time, Meg. It's hard enough to
have you change all of a sudden. Let me be a little girl as long
as I can."
As she spoke, Jo bent over the leaves to hide the trembling
of her lips, for lately she had felt that Margaret was fast getting
to be a woman, and Laurie's secret made her dread the separation
which must surely come some time and now seemed very near. He saw
the trouble in her face and drew Meg's attention from it by asking
quickly, "Where have you been calling, all so fine?"
"At the Gardiners', and Sallie has been telling me all about
Belle Moffat's wedding. It was very splendid, and they have gone
to spend the winter in Paris. Just think how delightful that
"Do you envy her, Meg?" said Laurie.
"I'm afraid I do."
"I'm glad of it!" muttered Jo, tying on her hat with a jerk.
"Why?" asked Meg, looking surprised.
"Because if you care much about riches, you will never go and
marry a poor man," said Jo, frowning at Laurie, who was mutely
warning her to mind what she said.
"I shall never 'go and marry' anyone," observed Meg, walking
on with great dignity while the others followed, laughing,
whispering, skipping stones, and 'behaving like children',
as Meg said to herself, though she might have been tempted
to join them if she had not had her best dress on.
For a week or two, Jo behaved so queerly that her sisters
were quite bewildered. She rushed to the door when the postman
rang, was rude to Mr. Brooke whenever they met, would sit looking
at Meg with a woe-begone face, occasionally jumping up to shake
and then kiss her in a very mysterious manner. Laurie and she
were always making signs to one another, and talking about
'Spread Eagles' till the girls declared they had both lost their
wits. On the second Saturday after Jo got out of the window, Meg,
as she sat sewing at her window, was scandalized by the sight of
Laurie chasing Jo all over the garden and finally capturing her
in Amy's bower. What went on there, Meg could not see, but shrieks
of laughter were heard, followed by the murmur of voices and a
great flapping of newspapers.
"What shall we do with that girl? She never will behave like
a young lady," sighed Meg, as she watched the race with a
"I hope she won't. She is so funny and dear as she is," said
Beth, who had never betrayed that she was a little hurt at Jo's
having secrets with anyone but her.
"It's very trying, but we never can make her comme la fo,"
added Amy, who sat making some new frills for herself, with her
curls tied up in a very becoming way, two agreeable things that
made her feel unusually elegant and ladylike.
In a few minutes Jo bounced in, laid herself on the sofa,
and affected to read.
"Have you anything interesting there?" asked Meg, with condescension.
"Nothing but a story, won't amount to much, I guess," returned
Jo, carefully keeping the name of the paper out of sight.
"You'd better read it aloud. That will amuse us and keep you
out of mischief," said Amy in her most grown-up tone.
"What's the name?" asked Beth, wondering why Jo kept her face
behind the sheet.
"The Rival Painters."
"That sounds well. Read it," said Meg.
With a loud "Hem!" and a long breath, Jo began to read very
fast. The girls listened with interest, for the tale was romantic,
and somewhat pathetic, as most of the characters died in the end.
"I like that about the splendid picture," was Amy's approving
remark, as Jo paused.
"I prefer the lovering part. Viola and Angelo are two of our
favorite names, isn't that queer?" said Meg, wiping her eyes, for
the lovering part was tragical.
"Who wrote it?" asked Beth, who had caught a glimpse of Jo's
The reader suddenly sat up, cast away the paper, displaying
a flushed countenance, and with a funny mixture of solemnity and
excitement replied in a loud voice, "Your sister."
"You?" cried Meg, dropping her work.
"It's very good," said Amy critically.
"I knew it! I knew it! Oh, my Jo, I am so proud!" and Beth
ran to hug her sister and exult over this splendid success.
Dear me, how delighted they all were, to be sure! How Meg
wouldn't believe it till she saw the words. "Miss Josephine
March," actually printed in the paper. How graciously Amy
critisized the artistic parts of the story, and offered hints for
a sequel, which unfortunately couldn't be carried out, as the
hero and heroine were dead. How Beth got excited, and skipped
and sang with joy. How Hannah came in to exclaim, "Sakes alive,
well I never!" in great astonishment at 'that Jo's doin's'. How
proud Mrs. March was when she knew it. How Jo laughed, with
tears in her eyes, as she declared she might as well be a peacock
and done with it, and how the 'Spread Eagle' might be said to
flap his wings triumphantly over the House of March, as the
paper passed from hand to hand.
"Tell us about it." "When did it come?" "How much did you
get for it?" "What will Father say?" "Won't Laurie laugh?" cried
the family, all in one breath as they clustered about Jo, for
these foolish, affectionate people made a jubilee of every little
"Stop jabbering, girls, and I'll tell you everything,"
said Jo, wondering if Miss Burney felt any grander over her
Evelina than she did over her 'Rival Painters'. Having told
how she disposed of her tales, Jo added, "And when I went to
get my answer, the man said he liked them both, but didn't
pay beginners, only let them print in his paper, and noticed
the stories. It was good practice, he said, and when the
beginners improved, anyone would pay. So I let him have the two
stories, and today this was sent to me, and Laurie caught me
with it and insisted on seeing it, so I let him. And he said
it was good, and I shall write more, and he's going to get the
next paid for, and I am so happy, for in time I may be able to
support myself and help the girls."
Jo's breath gave out here, and wrapping her head in the
paper, she bedewed her little story with a few natural tears,
for to be independent and earn the praise of those she loved
were the dearest wishes of her heart, and this seemed to be the
first step toward that happy end.
"November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year,"
said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon,
looking out at the frostbitten garden.
"That's the reason I was born in it," observed Jo pensively,
quite unconscious of the blot on her nose.
"If something very pleasant should happen now, we should
think it a delightful month," said Beth, who took a hopeful view
of everything, even November.
"I dare say, but nothing pleasant ever does happen in this
family," said Meg, who was out of sorts. "We go grubbing along
day after day, without a bit of change, and very little fun. We
might as well be in a treadmill."
"My patience, how blue we are!" cried Jo. "I don't much
wonder, poor dear, for you see other girls having splendid times,
while you grind, grind, year in and year out. Oh, don't I wish
I could manage things for you as I do for my heroines! You're
pretty enough and good enough already, so I'd have some rich relation
leave you a fortune unexpectedly. Then you'd dash out as an heiress,
scorn everyone who has slighted you, go abroad, and come home my Lady
Something in a blaze of splendor and elegance."
"People don't have fortunes left them in that style nowadays,
men have to work and women marry for money. It's a dreadfully unjust
world," said Meg bitterly.
"Jo and I are going to make fortunes for you all. Just wait ten
years, and see if we don't," said Amy, who sat in a corner making mud
pies, as Hannah called her little clay models of birds, fruit, and
"Can't wait, and I'm afraid I haven't much faith in ink and dirt,
though I'm grateful for your good intentions."
Meg sighed, and turned to the frostbitten garden again. Jo
groaned and leaned both elbows on the table in a despondent attitude,
but Amy spatted away energetically, and Beth, who sat at the other
window, said, smiling, "Two pleasant things are going to happen
right away. Marmee is coming down the street, and Laurie is tramping
through the garden as if he had something nice to tell."
In they both came, Mrs. March with her usual question, "Any letter
from Father, girls?" and Laurie to say in his persuasive way, "Won't
some of you come for a drive? I've been working away at mathematics
till my head is in a muddle, and I'm going to freshen my wits by a
brisk turn. It's a dull day, but the air isn't bad, and I'm going to
take Brooke home, so it will be gay inside, if it isn't out. Come,
Jo, you and Beth will go, won't you?"
"Of course we will."
"Much obliged, but I'm busy." And Meg whisked out her workbasket,
for she had agreed with her mother that it was best, for her at least,
not to drive too often with the young gentleman.
"We three will be ready in a minute," cried Amy, running away to
wash her hands.
"Can I do anything for you, Madam Mother?" asked Laurie, leaning
over Mrs. March's chair with the affectionate look and tone he always
"No, thank you, except call at the office, if you'll be so kind,
dear. It's our day for a letter, and the postman hasn't been. Father
is as regular as the sun, but there's some delay on the way, perhaps."
A sharp ring interrupted her, and a minute after Hannah came in
with a letter.
"It's one of them horrid telegraph things, mum," she said,
handling it as if she was afraid it would explode and do some damage.
At the word 'telegraph', Mrs. March snatched it, read the two
lines it contained, and dropped back into her chair as white as if
the little paper had sent a bullet to her heart. Laurie dashed
downstairs for water, while Meg and Hannah supported her, and Jo read
aloud, in a frightened voice . . .
Your husband is very ill. Come at once.
Blank Hospital, Washington.
How still the room was as they listened breathlessly, how
strangely the day darkened outside, and how suddenly the whole world
seemed to change, as the girls gathered about their mother, feeling
as if all the happiness and support of their lives was about to be
taken from them.
Mrs. March was herself again directly, read the message over,
and stretched out her arms to her daughters, saying, in a tone they
never forgot, "I shall go at once, but it may be too late. Oh,
children, children, help me to bear it!"
For several minutes there was nothing but the sound of sobbing
in the room, mingled with broken words of comfort, tender assurances
of help, and hopeful whispers that died away in tears. Poor Hannah
was the first to recover, and with unconscious wisdom she set all the
rest a good example, for with her, work was panacea for most
"The Lord keep the dear man! I won't waste no time a-cryin',
but git your things ready right away, mum," she said heartily, as she
wiped her face on her apron, gave her mistress a warm shake of the
hand with her own hard one, and went away to work like three women
"She's right, there's no time for tears now. Be calm, girls,
and let me think."
They tried to be calm, poor things, as their mother sat up,
looking pale but steady, and put away her grief to think and plan
"Where's Laurie?" she asked presently, when she had collected
her thoughts and decided on the first duties to be done.
"Here, ma'am. Oh, let me do something!" cried the boy,
hurrying from the next room whither he had withdrawn, feeling that
their first sorrow was too sacred for even his friendly eyes to see.
"Send a telegram saying I will come at once. The next train
goes early in the morning. I'll take that."
"What else? The horses are ready. I can go anywhere, do
anything," he said, looking ready to fly to the ends of the earth.
"Leave a note at Aunt March's. Jo, give me that pen and paper."
Tearing off the blank side of one of her newly copied pages,
Jo drew the table before her mother, well knowing that money for the
long, sad journey must be borrowed, and feeling as if she could do
anything to add a little to the sum for her father.
"Now go, dear, but don't kill yourself driving at a desperate
pace. There is no need of that."
Mrs. March's warning was evidently thrown away, for five minutes
later Laurie tore by the window on his own fleet horse, riding as if
for his life.
"Jo, run to the rooms, and tell Mrs. King that I can't come.
On the way get these things. I'll put them down, they'll be needed
and I must go prepared for nursing. Hospital stores are not always
good. Beth, go and ask Mr. Laurence for a couple of bottles of old
wine. I'm not too proud to beg for Father. He shall have the best
of everything. Amy, tell Hannah to get down the black trunk, and
Meg, come and help me find my things, for I'm half bewildered."
Writing, thinking, and directing all at once might well bewilder
the poor lady, and Meg begged her to sit quietly in her room
for a little while, and let them work. Everyone scattered
like leaves before a gust of wind, and the quiet, happy household
was broken up as suddenly as if the paper had been an evil spell.
Mr. Laurence came hurrying back with Beth, bringing every
comfort the kind old gentleman could think of for the invalid, and
friendliest promises of protection for the girls during the mother's
absence, which comforted her very much. There was nothing he didn't
offer, from his own dressing gown to himself as escort. But the
last was impossible. Mrs. March would not hear of the old
gentleman's undertaking the long journey, yet an expression of relief
was visible when he spoke of it, for anxiety ill fits one for traveling.
He saw the look, knit his heavy eyebrows, rubbed his hands, and
marched abruptly away, saying he'd be back directly. No one had
time to think of him again till, as Meg ran through the entry, with
a pair of rubbers in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, she
came suddenly upon Mr. Brooke.
"I'm very sorry to hear of this, Miss March," he said, in the
kind, quiet tone which sounded very pleasantly to her perturbed
spirit. "I came to offer myself as escort to your mother. Mr.
Laurence has commissions for me in Washington, and it will give me
real satisfaction to be of service to her there."
Down dropped the rubbers, and the tea was very near following,
as Meg put out her hand, with a face so full of gratitude that Mr.
Brooke would have felt repaid for a much greater sacrifice than
the trifling one of time and comfort which he was about to take.
"How kind you all are! Mother will accept, I'm sure, and it
will be such a relief to know that she has someone to take care of
her. Thank you very, very much!"
Meg spoke earnestly, and forgot herself entirely till something
in the brown eyes looking down at her made her remember the
cooling tea, and lead the way into the parlor, saying she would
call her mother.
Everything was arranged by the time Laurie returned with a
note from Aunt March, enclosing the desired sum, and a few lines
repeating what she had often said before, that she had always told
them it was absurd for March to go into the army, always predicted
that no good would come of it, and she hoped they would take her
advice the next time. Mrs. March put the note in the fire, the
money in her purse, and went on with her preparations, with her
lips folded tightly in a way which Jo would have understood if she
had been there.
The short afternoon wore away. All other errands were done,
and Meg and her mother busy at some necessary needlework, while
Beth and Amy got tea, and Hannah finished her ironing with what
she called a 'slap and a bang', but still Jo did not come. They
began to get anxious, and Laurie went off to find her, for no one
knew what freak Jo might take into her head. He missed her,
however, and she came walking in with a very queer expression of
countenance, for there was a mixture of fun and fear, satisfaction
and regret in it, which puzzled the family as much as did the roll
of bills she laid before her mother, saying with a little choke in
her voice, "That's my contribution toward making Father comfortable
and bringing him home!"
"My dear, where did you get it? Twenty-five dollars! Jo, I
hope you haven't done anything rash?"
"No, it's mine honestly. I didn't beg, borrow, or steal it. I
earned it, and I don't think you'll blame me, for I only sold what
was my own."
As she spoke, Jo took off her bonnet, and a general outcry arose,
for all her abundant hair was cut short.
"Your hair! Your beautiful hair!" "Oh, Jo, how could you? Your
one beauty." "My dear girl, there was no need of this." "She doesn't
look like my Jo any more, but I love her dearly for it!"
As everyone exclaimed, and Beth hugged the cropped head tenderly,
Jo assumed an indifferent air, which did not deceive anyone a particle,
and said, rumpling up the brown bush and trying to look as if she liked
it, "It doesn't affect the fate of the nation, so don't wail, Beth. It
will be good for my vanity, I was getting too proud of my wig. It will do
my brains good to have that mop taken off. My head feels deliciously
light and cool, and the barber said I could soon have a curly crop,
which will be boyish, becoming, and easy to keep in order. I'm
satisfied, so please take the money and let's have supper."
"Tell me all about it, Jo. I am not quite satisfied, but I can't
blame you, for I know how willingly you sacrificed your vanity, as
you call it, to your love. But, my dear, it was not necessary, and
I'm afraid you will regret it one of these days," said Mrs. March.
"No, I won't!" returned Jo stoutly, feeling much relieved that
her prank was not entirely condemned.
"What made you do it?" asked Amy, who would as soon have thought
of cutting off her head as her pretty hair.
"Well, I was wild to do something for Father," replied Jo, as
they gathered about the table, for healthy young people can eat even
in the midst of trouble. "I hate to borrow as much as Mother does,
and I knew Aunt March would croak, she always does, if you ask for
a ninepence. Meg gave all her quarterly salary toward the rent, and
I only got some clothes with mine, so I felt wicked, and was bound
to have some money, if I sold the nose off my face to get it."
"You needn't feel wicked, my child! You had no winter things and
got the simplest with your own hard earnings," said Mrs. March with a
look that warmed Jo's heart.
"I hadn't the least idea of selling my hair at first, but as I
went along I kept thinking what I could do, and feeling as if I'd
like to dive into some of the rich stores and help myself. In a
barber's window I saw tails of hair with the prices marked, and one
black tail, not so thick as mine, was forty dollars. It came to me
all of a sudden that I had one thing to make money out of, and
without stopping to think, I walked in, asked if they bought hair,
and what they would give for mine."
"I don't see how you dared to do it," said Beth in a tone of awe.
"Oh, he was a little man who looked as if he merely lived to oil
his hair. He rather stared at first, as if he wasn't used to having
girls bounce into his shop and ask him to buy their hair. He said he
didn't care about mine, it wasn't the fashionable color, and he never
paid much for it in the first place. The work put into it made
it dear, and so on. It was getting late, and I was afraid if it
wasn't done right away that I shouldn't have it done at all, and you
know when I start to do a thing, I hate to give it up. So I begged
him to take it, and told him why I was in such a hurry. It was
silly, I dare say, but it changed his mind, for I got rather excited,
and told the story in my topsy-turvy way, and his wife heard, and
said so kindly, 'Take it, Thomas, and oblige the young lady. I'd do
as much for our Jimmy any day if I had a spire of hair worth selling."
"Who was Jimmy?" asked Amy, who liked to have things explained
as they went along.
"Her son, she said, who was in the army. How friendly such
things make strangers feel, don't they? She talked away all the
time the man clipped, and diverted my mind nicely."
"Didn't you feel dreadfully when the first cut came?" asked
Meg, with a shiver.
"I took a last look at my hair while the man got his things,
and that was the end of it. I never snivel over trifles like that.
I will confess, though, I felt queer when I saw the dear old hair
laid out on the table, and felt only the short rough ends of my head.
It almost seemed as if I'd an arm or leg off. The woman saw me look
at it, and picked out a long lock for me to keep. I'll give it to
you, Marmee, just to remember past glories by, for a crop is so
comfortable I don't think I shall ever have a mane again."
Mrs. March folded the wavy chestnut lock, and laid it away with
a short gray one in her desk. She only said, "Thank you, deary,"
but something in her face made the girls change the subject, and
talk as cheerfully as they could about Mr. Brooke's kindness, the
prospect of a fine day tomorrow, and the happy times they would have
when Father came home to be nursed.
No one wanted to go to bed when at ten o'clock Mrs. March put
by the last finished job, and said, "Come girls." Beth went to the
piano and played the father's favorite hymn. All began bravely, but
broke down one by one till Beth was left alone, singing with all her
heart, for to her music was always a sweet consoler.
"Go to bed and don't talk, for we must be up early and shall
need all the sleep we can get. Good night, my darlings," said Mrs.
March, as the hymn ended, for no one cared to try another.
They kissed her quietly, and went to bed as silently as if the
dear invalid lay in the next room. Beth and Amy soon fell asleep in
spite of the great trouble, but Meg lay awake, thinking the most
serious thoughts she had ever known in her short life. Jo lay
motionless, and her sister fancied that she was asleep, till a stifled
sob made her exclaim, as she touched a wet cheek . . .
"Jo, dear, what is it? Are you crying about father?"
"No, not now."
"My . . . My hair!" burst out poor Jo, trying vainly to smother
her emotion in the pillow.
It did not seem at all comical to Meg, who kissed and caressed
the afflicted heroine in the tenderest manner.
"I'm not sorry," protested Jo, with a choke. "I'd do it again
tomorrow, if I could. It's only the vain part of me that goes and
cries in this silly way. Don't tell anyone, it's all over now. I
thought you were asleep, so I just made a little private moan for my
one beauty. How came you to be awake?"
"I can't sleep, I'm so anxious," said Meg.
"Think about something pleasant, and you'll soon drop off."
"I tried it, but felt wider awake than ever."
"What did you think of?"
"Handsome faces--eyes particularly," answered Meg, smiling to
herself in the dark.
"What color do you like best?"
"Brown, that is, sometimes. Blue are lovely."
Jo laughed, and Meg sharply ordered her not to talk, then
amiably promised to make her hair curl, and fell asleep to dream of
living in her castle in the air.
The clocks were striking midnight and the rooms were very still
as a figure glided quietly from bed to bed, smoothing a coverlet here,
settling a pillow there, and pausing to look long and tenderly at each
unconscious face, to kiss each with lips that mutely blessed, and to
pray the fervent prayers which only mothers utter. As she lifted the
curtain to look out into the dreary night, the moon broke suddenly
from behind the clouds and shone upon her like a bright, benignant
face, which seemed to whisper in the silence, "Be comforted, dear
soul! There is always light behind the clouds."
In the cold gray dawn the sisters lit their lamp and read
their chapter with an earnestness never felt before. For now
the shadow of a real trouble had come, the little books were full
of help and comfort, and as they dressed, they agreed to say goodbye
cheerfully and hopefully, and send their mother on her anxious
journey unsaddened by tears or complaints from them. Everything
seemed very strange when they went down, so dim and still outside,
so full of light and bustle within. Breakfast at that early hour
seemed odd, and even Hannah's familiar face looked unnatural as she
flew about her kitchen with her nightcap on. The big trunk stood
ready in the hall, Mother's cloak and bonnet lay on the sofa, and
Mother herself sat trying to eat, but looking so pale and worn
with sleeplessness and anxiety that the girls found it very hard
to keep their resolution. Meg's eyes kept filling in spite of
herself, Jo was obliged to hide her face in the kitchen roller
more than once, and the little girls wore a grave, troubled
expression, as if sorrow was a new experience to them.
Nobody talked much, but as the time drew very near and they
sat waiting for the carriage, Mrs. March said to the girls, who
were all busied about her, one folding her shawl, another smoothing
out the strings of her bonnet, a third putting on her overshoes,
and a fourth fastening up her travelling bag . . .
"Children, I leave you to Hannah's care and Mr. Laurence's
protection. Hannah is faithfulness itself, and our good neighbor
will guard you as if you were his own. I have no fears for you,
yet I am anxious that you should take this trouble rightly. Don't
grieve and fret when I am gone, or think that you can be idle and
comfort yourselves by being idle and trying to forget. Go on with
your work as usual, for work is a blessed solace. Hope and keep busy,
and whatever happens, remember that you never can be fatherless."
"Meg, dear, be prudent, watch over your sisters, consult
Hannah, and in any perplexity, go to Mr. Laurence. Be patient, Jo,
don't get despondent or do rash things, write to me often, and be
my brave girl, ready to help and cheer all. Beth, comfort yourself
with your music, and be faithful to the little home duties, and you,
Amy, help all you can, be obedient, and keep happy safe at home."
"We will, Mother! We will!"
The rattle of an approaching carriage made them all start and
listen. That was the hard minute, but the girls stood it well. No
one cried, no one ran away or uttered a lamentation, though their
hearts were very heavy as they sent loving messages to Father,
remembering, as they spoke that it might be too late to deliver them.
They kissed their mother quietly, clung about her tenderly, and
tried to wave their hands cheerfully when she drove away.
Laurie and his grandfather came over to see her off, and Mr.
Brooke looked so strong and sensible and kind that the girls
christened him 'Mr. Greatheart' on the spot.
"Goodby, my darlings! God bless and keep us all!" whispered
Mrs. March, as she kissed one dear little face after the other,
and hurried into the carriage.
As she rolled away, the sun came out, and looking back, she
saw it shining on the group at the gate like a good omen. They
saw it also, and smiled and waved their hands, and the last thing
she beheld as she turned the corner was the four bright faces, and
behind them like a bodyguard, old Mr. Laurence, faithful Hannah,
and devoted Laurie.
"How kind everyone is to us!" she said, turning to find fresh
proof of it in the respectful sympathy of the young man's face.
"I don't see how they can help it," returned Mr. Brooke,
laughing so infectiously that Mrs. March could not help smiling.
And so the journey began with the good omens of sunshine, smiles,
and cheerful words.
"I feel as if there had been an earthquake," said Jo, as their
neighbors went home to breakfast, leaving them to rest and refresh
"It seems as if half the house was gone," added Meg forlornly.
Beth opened her lips to say something, but could only point to
the pile of nicely mended hose which lay on Mother's table, showing
that even in her last hurried moments she had thought and worked
for them. It was a little thing, but it went straight to their
hearts, and in spite of their brave resolutions, they all broke
down and cried bitterly.
Hannah wisely allowed them to relieve their feelings, and
when the shower showed signs of clearing up, she came to the
rescue, armed with a coffeepot.
"Now, my dear young ladies, remember what your ma said, and
don't fret. Come and have a cup of coffee all round, and then
let's fall to work and be a credit to the family."
Coffee was a treat, and Hannah showed great tact in making it
that morning. No one could resist her persuasive nods, or the
fragrant invitation issuing from the nose of the coffee pot. They
drew up to the table, exchanged their handkerchiefs for napkins,
and in ten minutes were all right again.
"'Hope and keep busy', that's the motto for us, so let's see
who will remember it best. I shall go to Aunt March, as usual.
Oh, won't she lecture though!" said Jo, as she sipped with
"I shall go to my Kings, though I'd much rather stay at home
and attend to things here," said Meg, wishing she hadn't made her
eyes so red.
"No need of that. Beth and I can keep house perfectly well,"
put in Amy, with an important air.
"Hannah will tell us what to do, and we'll have everything
nice when you come home," added Beth, getting out her mop and dish
tub without delay.
"I think anxiety is very interesting," observed Amy, eating
The girls couldn't help laughing, and felt better for it,
though Meg shook her head at the young lady who could find
consolation in a sugar bowl.
The sight of the turnovers made Jo sober again; and when the
two went out to their daily tasks, they looked sorrowfully back
at the window where they were accustomed to see their mother's
face. It was gone, but Beth had remembered the little household
ceremony, and there she was, nodding away at them like a
"That's so like my Beth!" said Jo, waving her hat, with a
grateful face. "Goodbye, Meggy, I hope the Kings won't strain
today. Don't fret about Father, dear," she added, as they parted.
"And I hope Aunt March won't croak. Your hair is becoming,
and it looks very boyish and nice," returned Meg, trying not to
smile at the curly head, which looked comically small on her tall
"That's my only comfort." And, touching her hat a la Laurie,
away went Jo, feeling like a shorn sheep on a wintry day.
News from their father comforted the girls very much, for
though dangerously ill, the presence of the best and tenderest of
nurses had already done him good. Mr. Brooke sent a bulletin every
day, and as the head of the family, Meg insisted on reading the
dispatches, which grew more cheerful as the week passed. At first,
everyone was eager to write, and plump envelopes were carefully
poked into the letter box by one or other of the sisters, who felt
rather important with their Washington correspondence. As one of
these packets contained characteristic notes from the party, we will
rob an imaginary mail, and read them.
My dearest Mother:
It is impossible to tell you how happy your last letter made
us, for the news was so good we couldn't help laughing and crying
over it. How very kind Mr. Brooke is, and how fortunate that Mr.
Laurence's business detains him near you so long, since he is so
useful to you and Father. The girls are all as good as gold. Jo
helps me with the sewing, and insists on doing all sorts of hard
jobs. I should be afraid she might overdo, if I didn't know her
'moral fit' wouldn't last long. Beth is as regular about her tasks
as a clock, and never forgets what you told her. She grieves about
Father, and looks sober except when she is at her little piano. Amy
minds me nicely, and I take great care of her. She does her own
hair, and I am teaching her to make buttonholes and mend her stockings.
She tries very hard, and I know you will be pleased with her
improvement when you come. Mr. Laurence watches over us like a
motherly old hen, as Jo says, and Laurie is very kind and neighborly.
He and Jo keep us merry, for we get pretty blue sometimes, and feel
like orphans, with you so far away. Hannah is a perfect saint. She
does not scold at all, and always calls me Miss Margaret, which is
quite proper, you know, and treats me with respect. We are all
well and busy, but we long, day and night, to have you back. Give
my dearest love to Father, and believe me, ever your own . . .
This note, prettily written on scented paper, was a great
contrast to the next, which was scribbled on a big sheet of thin
foreign paper, ornamented with blots and all manner of flourishes
and curly-tailed letters.
My precious Marmee:
Three cheers for dear Father! Brooke was a trump to telegraph
right off, and let us know the minute he was better. I rushed up
garret when the letter came, and tried to thank god for being so
good to us, but I could only cry, and say, "I'm glad! I'm glad!"
Didn't that do as well as a regular prayer? For I felt a great
many in my heart. We have such funny times, and now I can enjoy
them, for everyone is so desperately good, it's like living in a
nest of turtledoves. You'd laugh to see Meg head the table and
try to be motherish. She gets prettier every day, and I'm in love
with her sometimes. The children are regular archangels, and I--
well, I'm Jo, and never shall be anything else. Oh, I must tell
you that I came near having a quarrel with Laurie. I freed my mind
about a silly little thing, and he was offended. I was right, but
didn't speak as I ought, and he marched home, saying he wouldn't
come again till I begged pardon. I declared I wouldn't and got mad.
It lasted all day. I felt bad and wanted you very much. Laurie and
I are both so proud, it's hard to beg pardon. But I thought he'd
come to it, for I was in the right. He didn't come, and just at
night I remembered what you said when Amy fell into the river. I
read my little book, felt better, resolved not to let the sun set
on my anger, and ran over to tell Laurie I was sorry. I met him
at the gate, coming for the same thing. We both laughed, begged
each other's pardon, and felt all good and comfortable again.
I made a 'pome' yesterday, when I was helping Hannah wash,
and as Father likes my silly little things, I put it in to amuse
him. Give him my lovingest hug that ever was, and kiss yourself
a dozen times for your . . .
A SONG FROM THE SUDS
Queen of my tub, I merrily sing,
While the white foam rises high,
And sturdily wash and rinse and wring,
And fasten the clothes to dry.
Then out in the free fresh air they swing,
Under the sunny sky.
I wish we could wash from our hearts and souls
The stains of the week away,
And let water and air by their magic make
Ourselves as pure as they.
Then on the earth there would be indeed,
A glorious washing day!
Along the path of a useful life,
Will heartsease ever bloom.
The busy mind has no time to think
Of sorrow or care or gloom.
And anxious thoughts may be swept away,
As we bravely wield a broom.
I am glad a task to me is given,
To labor at day by day,
For it brings me health and strength and hope,
And I cheerfully learn to say,
"Head, you may think, Heart, you may feel,
But, Hand, you shall work alway!"
There is only room for me to send my love, and some pressed
pansies from the root I have been keeping safe in the house for
Father to see. I read every morning, try to be good all day, and
sing myself to sleep with Father's tune. I can't sing 'LAND OF
THE LEAL' now, it makes me cry. Everyone is very kind, and we are
as happy as we can be without you. Amy wants the rest of the page,
so I must stop. I didn't forget to cover the holders, and I wind
the clock and air the rooms every day.
Kiss dear Father on the cheek he calls mine. Oh, do come soon
to your loving . . .
Ma Chere Mamma,
We are all well I do my lessons always and never corroberate
the girls--Meg says I mean contradick so I put in both words and
you can take the properest. Meg is a great comfort to me and lets
me have jelly every night at tea its so good for me Jo says because
it keeps me sweet tempered. Laurie is not as respeckful as he ought
to be now I am almost in my teens, he calls me Chick and hurts my
feelings by talking French to me very fast when I say Merci or Bon
jour as Hattie King does. The sleeves of my blue dress were all
worn out, and Meg put in new ones, but the full front came wrong
and they are more blue than the dress. I felt bad but did not fret
I bear my troubles well but I do wish Hannah would put more starch
in my aprons and have buckwheats every day. Can't she? Didn't I
make that interrigation point nice? Meg says my punchtuation and
spelling are disgraceful and I am mortyfied but dear me I have so
many things to do, I can't stop. Adieu, I send heaps of love to
Papa. Your affectionate daughter . . .
AMY CURTIS MARCH
Dear Mis March,
I jes drop a line to say we git on fust rate. The girls is
clever and fly round right smart. Miss Meg is going to make a
proper good housekeeper. She hes the liking for it, and gits the
hang of things surprisin quick. Jo doos beat all for goin ahead,
but she don't stop to cal'k'late fust, and you never know where
she's like to bring up. She done out a tub of clothes on Monday,
but she starched 'em afore they was wrenched, and blued a pink
calico dress till I thought I should a died a laughin. Beth is the
best of little creeters, and a sight of help to me, bein so
forehanded and dependable. She tries to learn everything, and really
goes to market beyond her years, likewise keeps accounts, with my
help, quite wonderful. We have got on very economical so fur. I
don't let the girls hev coffee only once a week, accordin to your
wish, and keep em on plain wholesome vittles. Amy does well
without frettin, wearin her best clothes and eatin sweet stuff.
Mr. Laurie is as full of didoes as usual, and turns the house upside
down frequent, but he heartens the girls, so I let em hev full
swing. The old gentleman sends heaps of things, and is rather
wearin, but means wal, and it aint my place to say nothin. My
bread is riz, so no more at this time. I send my duty to Mr.
March, and hope he's seen the last of his Pewmonia.
Head Nurse of Ward No. 2,
All serene on the Rappahannock, troops in fine condition,
commisary department well conducted, the Home Guard under Colonel
Teddy always on duty, Commander in Chief General Laurence reviews
the army daily, Quartermaster Mullet keeps order in camp, and Major
Lion does picket duty at night. A salute of twenty-four guns was
fired on reciept of good news from Washington, and a dress parade
took place at headquarters. Commander in chief sends best wishes,
in which he is heartily joined by . . .
The little girls are all well. Beth and my boy report daily.
Hannah is a model servant, and guards pretty Meg like a dragon.
Glad the fine weather holds. Pray make Brooke useful, and draw
on me for funds if expenses exceed your estimate. Don't let your
husband want anything. Thank God he is mending.
Your sincere friend and servant,
For a week the amount of virtue in the old house would have
supplied the neighborhood. It was really amazing, for everyone
seemed in a heavenly frame of mind, and self-denial was all the
fashion. Relieved of their first anxiety about their father, the
girls insensibly relaxed their praiseworthy efforts a little,
and began to fall back into old ways. They did not forget
their motto, but hoping and keeping busy seemed to grow easier,
and after such tremendous exertions, they felt that Endeavor
deserved a holiday, and gave it a good many.
Jo caught a bad cold through neglect to cover the shorn
head enough, and was ordered to stay at home till she was better,
for Aunt March didn't like to hear people read with colds in
their heads. Jo liked this, and after an energetic rummage from
garret to cellar, subsided on the sofa to nurse her cold with
arsenicum and books. Amy found that housework and art did not
go well together, and returned to her mud pies. Meg went daily
to her pupils, and sewed, or thought she did, at home, but much
time was spent in writing long letters to her mother, or reading
the Washington dispatches over and over. Beth kept on, with only
slight relapses into idleness or grieving.
All the little duties were faithfully done each day, and
many of her sisters' also, for they were forgetful, and the house
seemed like a clock whose pendulum was gone a-visiting. When her
heart got heavy with longings for Mother or fears for Father, she
went away into a certain closet, hid her face in the folds of a
dear old gown, and made her little moan and prayed her little
prayer quietly by herself. Nobody knew what cheered her up after
a sober fit, but everyone felt how sweet and helpful Beth was, and
fell into a way of going to her for comfort or advice in their
All were unconscious that this experience was a test of
character, and when the first excitement was over, felt that they
had done well and deserved praise. So they did, but their
mistake was in ceasing to do well, and they learned this lesson
through much anxiety and regret.
"Meg, I wish you'd go and see the Hummels. You know Mother
told us not to forget them." said Beth, ten days after Mrs. March's
"I'm too tired to go this afternoon," replied Meg, rocking
comfortably as she sewed.
"Can't you, Jo?" asked Beth.
"Too stormy for me with my cold."
"I thought it was almost well."
"It's well enough for me to go out with Laurie, but not well
enough to go to the Hummels'," said Jo, laughing, but looking a
little ashamed of her inconsistency.
"Why don't you go yourself?" asked Meg.
"I have been every day, but the baby is sick, and I don't
know what to do for it. Mrs. Hummel goes away to work, and
Lottchen takes care of it. But it gets sicker and sicker,
and I think you or Hannah ought to go."
Beth spoke earnestly, and Meg promised she would go tomorrow.
"Ask Hannah for some nice little mess, and take it round, Beth,
the air will do you good," said Jo, adding apologetically, "I'd go
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