Louisa May Alcott
Part 5 out of 11
but I want to finish my writing."
"My head aches and I'm tired, so I thought maybe some of you
would go," said Beth.
"Amy will be in presently, and she will run down for us,"
So Beth lay down on the sofa, the others returned to their work,
and the Hummels were forgotten. An hour passed. Amy did not come,
Meg went to her room to try on a new dress, Jo was absorbed in her
story, and Hannah was sound asleep before the kitchen fire, when
Beth quietly put on her hood, filled her basket with odds and ends
for the poor children, and went out into the chilly air with a heavy
head and a grieved look in her patient eyes. It was late when she
came back, and no one saw her creep upstairs and shut herself into
her mother's room. Half an hour after, Jo went to 'Mother's closet'
for something, and there found little Beth sitting on the medicine
chest, looking very grave, with red eyes and a camphor bottle in
"Christopher Columbus! What's the matter?" cried Jo, as Beth
put out her hand as if to warn her off, and asked quickly. . .
"You've had the scarlet fever, haven't you?"
"Years ago, when Meg did. Why?"
"Then I'll tell you. Oh, Jo, the baby's dead!"
"Mrs. Hummel's. It died in my lap before she got home," cried
Beth with a sob.
"My poor dear, how dreadful for you! I ought to have gone,"
said Jo, taking her sister in her arms as she sat down in her
mother's big chair, with a remorseful face.
"It wasn't dreadful, Jo, only so sad! I saw in a minute it
was sicker, but Lottchen said her mother had gone for a doctor, so
I took Baby and let Lotty rest. It seemed asleep, but all of a
sudden if gave a little cry and trembled, and then lay very still.
I tried to warm its feet, and Lotty gave it some milk, but it didn't
stir, and I knew it was dead."
"Don't cry, dear! What did you do?"
"I just sat and held it softly till Mrs. Hummel came with the
doctor. He said it was dead, and looked at Heinrich and Minna, who
have sore throats. 'Scarlet fever, ma'am. Ought to have called me
before,' he said crossly. Mrs. Hummel told him she was poor, and
had tried to cure baby herself, but now it was too late, and she
could only ask him to help the others and trust to charity for his
pay. He smiled then, and was kinder, but it was very sad, and I
cried with them till he turned round all of a sudden, and told me
to go home and take belladonna right away, or I'd have the fever."
"No, you won't!" cried Jo, hugging her close, with a frightened
look. "Oh, Beth, if you should be sick I never could forgive myself!
What shall we do?"
"Don't be frightened, I guess I shan't have it badly. I looked
in Mother's book, and saw that it begins with headache, sore throat,
and queer feelings like mine, so I did take some belladonna, and I
feel better," said Beth, laying her cold hands on her hot forehead
and trying to look well.
"If Mother was only at home!" exclaimed Jo, seizing the book,
and feeling that Washington was an immense way off. She read a page,
looked at Beth, felt her head, peeped into her throat, and then
said gravely, "You've been over the baby every day for more than a
week, and among the others who are going to have it, so I'm afraid
you are going to have it, Beth. I'll call Hannah, she knows all
"Don't let Amy come. She never had it, and I should hate to
give it to her. Can't you and Meg have it over again?" asked Beth,
"I guess not. Don't care if I do. Serve me right, selfish pig,
to let you go, and stay writing rubbish myself!" muttered Jo, as she
went to consult Hannah.
The good soul was wide awake in a minute, and took the lead at
once, assuring that there was no need to worry; every one had scarlet
fever, and if rightly treated, nobody died, all of which Jo believed,
and felt much relieved as they went up to call Meg.
"Now I'll tell you what we'll do," said Hannah, when she had
examined and questioned Beth, "we will have Dr. Bangs, just to take
a look at you, dear, and see that we start right. Then we'll send
Amy off to Aunt March's for a spell, to keep her out of harm's way,
and one of you girls can stay at home and amuse Beth for a day or two."
"I shall stay, of course, I'm oldest," began Meg, looking anxious
"I shall, because it's my fault she is sick. I told Mother I'd
do the errands, and I haven't," said Jo decidedly.
"Which will you have, Beth? There ain't no need of but one,"
"Jo, please." And Beth leaned her head against her sister with
a contented look, which effectually settled that point.
"I'll go and tell Amy," said Meg, feeling a little hurt, yet
rather relieved on the whole, for she did not like nursing, and Jo
Amy rebelled outright, and passionately declared that she had
rather have the fever than go to Aunt March. Meg reasoned, pleaded,
and commanded, all in vain. Amy protested that she would not go,
and Meg left her in despair to ask Hannah what should be done. Before
she came back, Laurie walked into the parlor to find Amy sobbing, with
her head in the sofa cushions. She told her story, expecting to be
consoled, but Laurie only put his hands in his pockets and walked
about the room, whistling softly, as he knit his brows in deep
thought. Presently he sat down beside her, and said, in his most
wheedlesome tone, "Now be a sensible little woman, and do as they say.
No, don't cry, but hear what a jolly plan I've got. You go to Aunt
March's, and I'll come and take you out every day, driving or walking,
and we'll have capital times. Won't that be better than moping here?"
"I don't wish to be sent off as if I was in the way," began Amy,
in an injured voice.
"Bless your heart, child, it's to keep you well. You don't
want to be sick, do you?"
"No, I'm sure I don't, but I dare say I shall be, for I've been
with Beth all the time."
"That's the very reason you ought to go away at once, so that
you may escape it. Change of air and care will keep you well, I
dare say, or if it does not entirely, you will have the fever more
lightly. I advise you to be off as soon as you can, for scarlet fever
is no joke, miss."
"But it's dull at Aunt March's, and she is so cross," said Amy,
looking rather frightened.
"It won't be dull with me popping in every day to tell you how
Beth is, and take you out gallivanting. The old lady likes me, and
I'll be as sweet as possible to her, so she won't peck at us,
whatever we do."
"Will you take me out in the trotting wagon with Puck?"
"On my honor as a gentleman."
"And come every single day?"
"See if I don't!"
"And bring me back the minute Beth is well?"
"The identical minute."
"And go to the theater, truly?"
"A dozen theaters, if we may."
"Well--I guess I will," said Amy slowly.
"Good girl! Call Meg, and tell her you'll give in," said
Laurie, with an approving pat, which annoyed Amy more than the
Meg and Jo came running down to behold the miracle which had
been wrought, and Amy, feeling very precious and self-sacrificing,
promised to go, if the doctor said Beth was going to be ill.
"How is the little dear?" asked Laurie, for Beth was his
especial pet, and he felt more anxious about her than he liked to
"She is lying down on Mother's bed, and feels better. The
baby's death troubled her, but I dare say she has only got cold.
Hannah says she thinks so, but she looks worried, and that makes me
fidgety," answered Meg.
"What a trying world it is!" said Jo, rumpling up her hair in
a fretful way. "No sooner do we get out of one trouble than down
comes another. There doesn't seem to be anything to hold on to
when Mother's gone, so I'm all at sea."
"Well, don't make a porcupine of yourself, it isn't becoming.
Settle your wig, Jo, and tell me if I shall telegraph to your mother,
or do anything?" asked Laurie, who never had been reconciled to the
loss of his friend's one beauty.
"That is what troubles me," said Meg. "I think we ought to tell
her if Beth is really ill, but Hannah says we mustn't, for Mother
can't leave Father, and it will only make them anxious. Beth won't
be sick long, and Hannah knows just what to do, and Mother said we
were to mind her, so I suppose we must, but it doesn't seem quite
right to me."
"Hum, well, I can't say. Suppose you ask Grandfather after
the doctor has been."
"We will. Jo, go and get Dr. Bangs at once," commanded Meg.
"We can't decide anything till he has been."
"Stay where you are, Jo. I'm errand boy to this establishment,"
said Laurie, taking up his cap.
"I'm afraid you are busy," began Meg.
"No, I've done my lessons for the day."
"Do you study in vacation time?" asked Jo.
"I follow the good example my neighbors set me," was Laurie's
answer, as he swung himself out of the room.
"I have great hopes for my boy," observed Jo, watching him
fly over the fence with an approving smile.
"He does very well, for a boy," was Meg's somewhat ungracious
answer, for the subject did not interest her.
Dr. Bangs came, said Beth had symptoms of the fever, but he thought
she would have it lightly, though he looked sober over the Hummel
story. Amy was ordered off at once, and provided with something to ward
off danger, she departed in great state, with Jo and Laurie as escort.
Aunt March received them with her usual hospitality.
"What do you want now?" she asked, looking sharply over her
spectacles, while the parrot, sitting on the back of her chair,
called out . . .
"Go away. No boys allowed here."
Laurie retired to the window, and Jo told her story.
"No more than I expected, if you are allowed to go poking
about among poor folks. Amy can stay and make herself useful
if she isn't sick, which I've no doubt she will be, looks like
it now. Don't cry, child, it worries me to hear people sniff."
Amy was on the point of crying, but Laurie slyly pulled the
parrot's tail, which caused Polly to utter an astonished croak and
call out, "Bless my boots!" in such a funny way, that she laughed
"What do you hear from your mother?" asked the old lady gruffly.
"Father is much better," replied Jo, trying to keep sober.
"Oh, is he? Well, that won't last long, I fancy. March
never had any stamina," was the cheerful reply.
"Ha, ha! Never say die, take a pinch of snuff, goodbye, goodbye!"
squalled Polly, dancing on her perch, and clawing at the old
lady's cap as Laurie tweaked him in the rear.
"Hold your tongue, you disrespectful old bird! And, Jo, you'd
better go at once. It isn't proper to be gadding about so late with
a rattlepated boy like . . ."
"Hold your tongue, you disrespectful old bird!" cried Polly,
tumbling off the chair with a bounce, and running to peck the
'rattlepated' boy, who was shaking with laughter at the last speech.
"I don't think I can bear it, but I'll try," thought Amy, as
she was left alone with Aunt March.
"Get along, you fright!" screamed Polly, and at that rude speech
Amy could not restrain a sniff.
Beth did have the fever, and was much sicker than anyone but
Hannah and the doctor suspected. The girls knew nothing about
illness, and Mr. Laurence was not allowed to see her, so Hannah had
everything her own way, and busy Dr. Bangs did his best, but left a
good deal to the excellent nurse. Meg stayed at home, lest she
should infect the Kings, and kept house, feeling very anxious and a
little guilty when she wrote letters in which no mention was made of
Beth's illness. She could not think it right to deceive her mother,
but she had been bidden to mind Hannah, and Hannah wouldn't hear of
'Mrs. March bein' told, and worried just for sech a trifle.'
Jo devoted herself to Beth day and night, not a hard task, for
Beth was very patient, and bore her pain uncomplainingly as long as
she could control herself. But there came a time when during the
fever fits she began to talk in a hoarse, broken voice, to play on
the coverlet as if on her beloved little piano, and try to sing with
a throat so swollen that there was no music left, a time when she
did not know the familiar faces around her, but addressed them by
wrong names, and called imploringly for her mother. Then Jo grew
frightened, Meg begged to be allowed to write the truth, and even
Hannah said she 'would think of it, though there was no danger
yet'. A letter from Washington added to their trouble, for Mr.
March had had a relapse, and could not think of coming home for a
How dark the days seemed now, how sad and lonely the house,
and how heavy were the hearts of the sisters as they worked and
waited, while the shadow of death hovered over the once happy home.
Then it was that Margaret, sitting alone with tears dropping often
on her work, felt how rich she had been in things more precious
than any luxuries money could buy--in love, protection, peace, and
health, the real blessings of life. Then it was that Jo, living in
the darkened room, with that suffering little sister always before
her eyes and that pathetic voice sounding in her ears, learned to
see the beauty and the sweetness of Beth's nature, to feel how deep
and tender a place she filled in all hearts, and to acknowledge the
worth of Beth's unselfish ambition to live for others, and make
home happy by that exercise of those simple virtues which all may
possess, and which all should love and value more than talent, wealth,
or beauty. And Amy, in her exile, longed eagerly to be at home, that
she might work for Beth, feeling now that no service would be hard or
irksome, and remembering, with regretful grief, how many neglected
tasks those willing hands had done for her. Laurie haunted the house
like a restless ghost, and Mr. Laurence locked the grand piano, because
he could not bear to be reminded of the young neighbor who used to
make the twilight pleasant for him. Everyone missed Beth. The milkman,
baker, grocer, and butcher inquired how she did, poor Mrs. Hummel
came to beg pardon for her thoughtlessness and to get a shroud
for Minna, the neighbors sent all sorts of comforts and good wishes,
and even those who knew her best were surprised to find how many
friends shy little Beth had made.
Meanwhile she lay on her bed with old Joanna at her side, for
even in her wanderings she did not forget her forlorn protege. She
longed for her cats, but would not have them brought, lest they
should get sick, and in her quiet hours she was full of anxiety
about Jo. She sent loving messages to Amy, bade them tell her mother
that she would write soon, and often begged for pencil and paper to
try to say a word, that Father might not think she had neglected him.
But soon even these intervals of consciousness ended, and she lay
hour after hour, tossing to and fro, with incoherent words on her
lips, or sank into a heavy sleep which brought her no refreshment.
Dr. Bangs came twice a day, Hannah sat up at night, Meg kept a
telegram in her desk all ready to send off at any minute, and Jo
never stirred from Beth's side.
The first of December was a wintry day indeed to them, for a
bitter wind blew, snow fell fast, and the year seemed getting ready
for its death. When Dr. Bangs came that morning, he looked long at
Beth, held the hot hand in both his own for a minute, and laid it
gently down, saying, in a low voice to Hannah, "If Mrs. March can
leave her husband she'd better be sent for."
Hannah nodded without speaking, for her lips twitched nervously,
Meg dropped down into a chair as the strength seemed to go out of
her limbs at the sound of those words, and Jo, standing with a pale
face for a minute, ran to the parlor, snatched up the telegram, and
throwing on her things, rushed out into the storm. She was soon
back, and while noiselessly taking off her cloak, Laurie came in
with a letter, saying that Mr. March was mending again. Jo read
it thankfully, but the heavy weight did not seem lifted off her
heart, and her face was so full of misery that Laurie asked quickly,
"What is it? Is Beth worse?"
"I've sent for Mother," said Jo, tugging at her rubber boots
with a tragic expression.
"Good for you, Jo! Did you do it on your own responsibility?"
asked Laurie, as he seated her in the hall chair and took off the
rebellious boots, seeing how her hands shook.
"No. The doctor told us to."
"Oh, Jo, it's not so bad as that?" cried Laurie, with a
"Yes, it is. She doesn't know us, she doesn't even talk about
the flocks of green doves, as she calls the vine leaves on the wall.
She doesn't look like my Beth, and there's nobody to help us bear it.
Mother and father both gone, and God seems so far away I can't find
As the tears streamed fast down poor Jo's cheeks, she stretched
out her hand in a helpless sort of way, as if groping in the dark,
and Laurie took it in his, whispering as well as he could with a
lump in his throat, "I'm here. Hold on to me, Jo, dear!"
She could not speak, but she did 'hold on', and the warm grasp
of the friendly human hand comforted her sore heart, and seemed to
lead her nearer to the Divine arm which alone could uphold her in
Laurie longed to say something tender and comfortable, but no
fitting words came to him, so he stood silent, gently stroking her
bent head as her mother used to do. It was the best thing he could
have done, far more soothing than the most eloquent words, for Jo
felt the unspoken sympathy, and in the silence learned the sweet
solace which affection administers to sorrow. Soon she dried the
tears which had relieved her, and looked up with a grateful face.
"Thank you, Teddy, I'm better now. I don't feel so forlorn,
and will try to bear it if it comes."
"Keep hoping for the best, that will help you, Jo. Soon your
mother will be here, and then everything will be all right."
"I'm so glad Father is better. Now she won't feel so bad about
leaving him. Oh, me! It does seem as if all the troubles came in
a heap, and I got the heaviest part on my shoulders," sighed Jo,
spreading her wet handkerchief over her knees to dry.
"Doesn't Meg pull fair?" asked Laurie, looking indignant.
"Oh, yes, she tries to, but she can't love Bethy as I do, and
she won't miss her as I shall. Beth is my conscience, and I can't
give her up. I can't! I can't!"
Down went Jo's face into the wet handkerchief, and she cried
despairingly, for she had kept up bravely till now and never shed
a tear. Laurie drew his hand across his eyes, but could not speak
till he had subdued the choky feeling in his throat and steadied his
lips. It might be unmanly, but he couldn't help it, and I am glad
of it. Presently, as Jo's sobs quieted, he said hopefully, "I
don't think she will die. She's so good, and we all love her so
much, I don't believe God will take her away yet."
"The good and dear people always do die," groaned Jo, but she
stopped crying, for her friend's words cheered her up in spite of
her own doubts and fears.
"Poor girl, you're worn out. It isn't like you to be forlorn.
Stop a bit. I'll hearten you up in a jiffy."
Laurie went off two stairs at a time, and Jo laid her wearied
head down on Beth's little brown hood, which no one had thought of
moving from the table where she left it. It must have possessed
some magic, for the submissive spirit of its gentle owner seemed
to enter into Jo, and when Laurie came running down with a glass
of wine, she took it with a smile, and said bravely, "I drink--
Health to my Beth! You are a good doctor, Teddy, and such a comfortable
friend. How can I ever pay you?" she added, as the wine
refreshed her body, as the kind words had done her troubled mind.
"I'll send my bill, by-and-by, and tonight I'll give you something
that will warm the cockles of your heart better than quarts
of wine," said Laurie, beaming at her with a face of suppressed
satisfaction at something.
"What is it?" cried Jo, forgetting her woes for a minute in her wonder.
"I telegraphed to your mother yesterday, and Brooke answered
she'd come at once, and she'll be here tonight, and everything will
be all right. Aren't you glad I did it?"
Laurie spoke very fast, and turned red and excited all in a minute,
for he had kept his plot a secret, for fear of disappointing
the girls or harming Beth. Jo grew quite white, flew out
of her chair, and the moment he stopped speaking she electrified him
by throwing her arms round his neck, and crying out, with a joyful
cry, "Oh, Laurie! Oh, Mother! I am so glad!" She did not weep
again, but laughed hysterically, and trembled and clung to her
friend as if she was a little bewildered by the sudden news.
Laurie, though decidedly amazed, behaved with great
presence of mind. He patted her back soothingly, and finding that
she was recovering, followed it up by a bashful kiss or two, which
brought Jo round at once. Holding on to the banisters, she put
him gently away, saying breathlessly, "Oh, don't! I didn't mean
to, it was dreadful of me, but you were such a dear to go and do
it in spite of Hannah that I couldn't help flying at you. Tell
me all about it, and don't give me wine again, it makes me act so."
"I don't mind," laughed Laurie, as he settled his tie. "Why,
you see I got fidgety, and so did Grandpa. We thought Hannah was
overdoing the authority business, and your mother ought to know.
She'd never forgive us if Beth . . . Well, if anything happened,
you know. So I got grandpa to say it was high time we did something,
and off I pelted to the office yesterday, for the doctor looked sober,
and Hannah most took my head off when I proposed a telegram. I never
can bear to be 'lorded over', so that settled my mind, and I did it.
Your mother will come, I know, and the late train is in at two A.M.
I shall go for her, and you've only got to bottle up your rapture,
and keep Beth quiet till that blessed lady gets here."
"Laurie, you're an angel! How shall I ever thank you?"
"Fly at me again. I rather liked it," said Laurie, looking
mischievous, a thing he had not done for a fortnight.
"No, thank you. I'll do it by proxy, when your grandpa comes.
Don't tease, but go home and rest, for you'll be up half the night.
Bless you, Teddy, bless you!"
Jo had backed into a corner, and as she finished her speech,
she vanished precipitately into the kitchen, where she sat down
upon a dresser and told the assembled cats that she was "happy,
oh, so happy!" while Laurie departed, feeling that he had made a
rather neat thing of it.
"That's the interferingest chap I ever see, but I forgive
him and do hope Mrs. March is coming right away," said Hannah,
with an air of relief, when Jo told the good news.
Meg had a quiet rapture, and then brooded over the letter,
while Jo set the sickroom in order, and Hannah "knocked up a
couple of pies in case of company unexpected". A breath of
fresh air seemed to blow through the house, and something better
than sunshine brightened the quiet rooms. Everything appeared
to feel the hopeful change. Beth's bird began to chirp again,
and a half-blown rose was discovered on Amy's bush in the window.
The fires seemed to burn with unusual cheeriness, and every time
the girls met, their pale faces broke into smiles as they hugged
one another, whispering encouragingly, "Mother's coming, dear!
Mother's coming!" Every one rejoiced but Beth. She lay in that
heavy stupor, alike unconscious of hope and joy, doubt and danger.
It was a piteous sight, the once rosy face so changed and vacant,
the once busy hands so weak and wasted, the once smiling lips
quite dumb, and the once pretty, well-kept hair scattered rough
and tangled on the pillow. All day she lay so, only rousing now
and then to mutter, "Water!" with lips so parched they could
hardly shape the word. All day Jo and Meg hovered over her,
watching, waiting, hoping, and trusting in God and Mother, and
all day the snow fell, the bitter wind raged, and the hours
dragged slowly by. But night came at last, and every time
the clock struck, the sisters, still sitting on either side of
the bed, looked at each other with brightening eyes, for each
hour brought help nearer. The doctor had been in to say that
some change, for better or worse, would probably take place
about midnight, at which time he would return.
Hannah, quite worn out, lay down on the sofa at the bed's
foot and fell fast asleep, Mr. Laurence marched to and fro in the
parlor, feeling that he would rather face a rebel battery than
Mrs. March's countenance as she entered. Laurie lay on the rug,
pretending to rest, but staring into the fire with the thoughtful
look which made his black eyes beautifully soft and clear.
The girls never forgot that night, for no sleep came to them
as they kept their watch, with that dreadful sense of
powerlessness which comes to us in hours like those.
"If God spares Beth, I never will complain again," whispered
"If god spares Beth, I'll try to love and serve Him all my
life," answered Jo, with equal fervor.
"I wish I had no heart, it aches so," sighed Meg, after a pause.
"If life is often as hard as this, I don't see how we ever
shall get through it," added her sister despondently.
Here the clock struck twelve, and both forgot themselves in
watching Beth, for they fancied a change passed over her wan face.
The house was still as death, and nothing but the wailing of the
wind broke the deep hush. Weary Hannah slept on, and no one but
the sisters saw the pale shadow which seemed to fall upon the
little bed. An hour went by, and nothing happened except Laurie's
quiet departure for the station. Another hour, still no one came,
and anxious fears of delay in the storm, or accidents by the way,
or, worst of all, a great grief at Washington, haunted the girls.
It was past two, when Jo, who stood at the window thinking
how dreary the world looked in its winding sheet of snow, heard
a movement by the bed, and turning quickly, saw Meg kneeling
before their mother's easy chair with her face hidden. A dreadful
fear passed coldly over Jo, as she thought, "Beth is dead, and Meg
is afraid to tell me."
She was back at her post in an instant, and to her excited
eyes a great change seemed to have taken place. The fever flush
and the look of pain were gone, and the beloved little face looked
so pale and peaceful in its utter repose that Jo felt no desire to
weep or to lament. Leaning low over this dearest of her sisters,
she kissed the damp forehead with her heart on her lips, and softly
whispered, "Goodby, my Beth. Goodby!"
As if awaked by the stir, Hannah started out of her sleep,
hurried to the bed, looked at Beth, felt her hands, listened at
her lips, and then, throwing her apron over her head, sat down
to rock to and fro, exclaiming, under her breath, "The fever's
turned, she's sleepin' nat'ral, her skin's damp, and she breathes
easy. Praise be given! Oh, my goodness me!"
Before the girls could believe the happy truth, the doctor
came to confirm it. He was a homely man, but they thought his
face quite heavenly when he smiled and said, with a fatherly look
at them, "Yes, my dears, I think the little girl will pull through
this time. Keep the house quiet, let her sleep, and when she wakes,
give her . . ."
What they were to give, neither heard, for both crept into
the dark hall, and, sitting on the stairs, held each other close,
rejoicing with hearts too full for words. When they went back to
be kissed and cuddled by faithful Hannah, they found Beth lying,
as she used to do, with her cheek pillowed on her hand, the
dreadful pallor gone, and breathing quietly, as if just fallen
"If Mother would only come now!" said Jo, as the winter night
began to wane.
"See," said Meg, coming up with a white, half-opened rose,
"I thought this would hardly be ready to lay in Beth's hand
tomorrow if she--went away from us. But it has blossomed in the
night, and now I mean to put it in my vase here, so that when
the darling wakes, the first thing she sees will be the little
rose, and Mother's face."
Never had the sun risen so beautifully, and never had the
world seemed so lovely as it did to the heavy eyes of Meg and Jo,
as they looked out in the early morning, when their long, sad
vigil was done.
"It looks like a fairy world," said Meg, smiling to herself,
as she stood behind the curtain, watching the dazzling sight.
"Hark!" cried Jo, starting to her feet.
Yes, there was a sound of bells at the door below, a cry
from Hannah, and then Laurie's voice saying in a joyful whisper,
"Girls, she's come! She's come!"
While these things were happening at home, Amy was having
hard times at Aunt March's. She felt her exile deeply, and
for the first time in her life, realized how much she was
beloved and petted at home. Aunt March never petted any one;
she did not approve of it, but she meant to be kind, for the
well-behaved little girl pleased her very much, and Aunt March had
a soft place in her old heart for her nephew's children, though
she didn't think it proper to confess it. She really did her
best to make Amy happy, but, dear me, what mistakes she made.
Some old people keep young at heart in spite of wrinkles and
gray hairs, can sympathize with children's little cares and
joys, make them feel at home, and can hide wise lessons under
pleasant plays, giving and receiving friendship in the sweetest
way. But Aunt March had not this gift, and she worried Amy very
much with her rules and orders, her prim ways, and long, prosy
talks. Finding the child more docile and amiable than her sister,
the old lady felt it her duty to try and counteract, as far as
possible, the bad effects of home freedom and indulgence. So she
took Amy by the hand, and taught her as she herself had been
taught sixty years ago, a process which carried dismay to Amy's
soul, and made her feel like a fly in the web of a very strict
She had to wash the cups every morning, and polish up the
old-fashioned spoons, the fat silver teapot, and the glasses till
they shone. Then she must dust the room, and what a trying job
that was. Not a speck escaped Aunt March's eye, and all the
furniture had claw legs and much carving, which was never dusted
to suit. Then Polly had to be fed, the lap dog combed, and a
dozen trips upstairs and down to get things or deliver orders,
for the old lady was very lame and seldom left her big chair. After
these tiresome labors, she must do her lessons, which was a daily
trial of every virtue she possessed. Then she was allowed one
hour for exercise or play, and didn't she enjoy it?
Laurie came every day, and wheedled Aunt March till Amy was
allowed to go out with him, when they walked and rode and had
capital times. After dinner, she had to read aloud, and sit still
while the old lady slept, which she usually did for an hour, as
she dropped off over the first page. Then patchwork or towels
appeared, and Amy sewed with outward meekness and inward rebellion
till dusk, when she was allowed to amuse herself as she liked
till teatime. The evenings were the worst of all, for Aunt March
fell to telling long stories about her youth, which were so
unutterably dull that Amy was always ready to go to bed, intending
to cry over her hard fate, but usually going to sleep before
she had squeezed out more than a tear or two.
If it had not been for Laurie, and old Esther, the maid,
she felt that she never could have got through that dreadful
time. The parrot alone was enough to drive her distracted, for
he soon felt that she did not admire him, and revenged himself
by being as mischievous as possible. He pulled her hair
whenever she came near him, upset his bread and milk to plague her
when she had newly cleaned his cage, made Mop bark by pecking
at him while Madam dozed, called her names before company, and
behaved in all respects like an reprehensible old bird. Then she
could not endure the dog, a fat, cross beast who snarled and
yelped at her when she made his toilet, and who lay on his back
with all his legs in the air and a most idiotic expression of
countenance when he wanted something to eat, which was about a
dozen times a day. The cook was bad-tempered, the old coachman
was deaf, and Esther the only one who ever took any notice of
the young lady.
Esther was a Frenchwoman, who had lived with'Madame', as
she called her mistress, for many years, and who rather
tyrannized over the old lady, who could not get along without her.
Her real name was Estelle, but Aunt March ordered her to change it,
and she obeyed, on condition that she was never asked to change
her religion. She took a fancy to Mademoiselle, and amused her
very much with odd stories of her life in France, when Amy sat
with her while she got up Madame's laces. She also allowed her
to roam about the great house, and examine the curious and pretty
things stored away in the big wardrobes and the ancient chests,
for Aunt March hoarded like a magpie. Amy's chief delight was
an Indian cabinet, full of queer drawers, little pigeonholes,
and secret places, in which were kept all sorts of ornaments,
some precious, some merely curious, all more or less antique.
To examine and arrange these things gave Amy great satisfaction,
especially the jewel cases, in which on velvet cushions reposed
the ornaments which had adorned a belle forty years ago. There
was the garnet set which Aunt March wore when she came out, the
pearls her father gave her on her wedding day, her lover's diamonds,
the jet mourning rings and pins, the queer lockets, with portraits
of dead friends and weeping willows made of hair inside, the baby
bracelets her one little daughter had worn, Uncle March's big
watch, with the red seal so many childish hands had played with,
and in a box all by itself lay Aunt March's wedding ring, too small
now for her fat finger, but put carefully away like the most
precious jewel of them all.
"Which would Mademoiselle choose if she had her will?" asked
Esther, who always sat near to watch over and lock up the valuables.
"I like the diamonds best, but there is no necklace among them,
and I'm fond of necklaces, they are so becoming. I should choose
this if I might," replied Amy, looking with great admiration at a
string of gold and ebony beads from which hung a heavy cross of
"I, too, covet that, but not as a necklace. Ah, no! To me it
is a rosary, and as such I should use it like a good catholic," said
Esther, eyeing the handsome thing wistfully.
"Is it meant to use as you use the string of good-smelling
wooden beads hanging over your glass?" asked Amy.
"Truly, yes, to pray with. It would be pleasing to the saints
if one used so fine a rosary as this, instead of wearing it as a
"You seem to take a great deal of comfort in your prayers,
Esther, and always come down looking quiet and satisfied. I wish
"If Mademoiselle was a Catholic, she would find true comfort,
but as that is not to be, it would be well if you went apart each
day to meditate and pray, as did the good mistress whom I served
before Madame. She had a little chapel, and in it found solacement
for much trouble."
"Would it be right for me to do so too?" asked Amy, who in
her loneliness felt the need of help of some sort, and found that
she was apt to forget her little book, now that Beth was not there
to remind her of it.
"It would be excellent and charming, and I shall gladly
arrange the little dressing room for you if you like it. Say
nothing to Madame, but when she sleeps go you and sit alone a
while to think good thoughts, and pray the dear God preserve
Esther was truly pious, and quite sincere in her advice, for
she had an affectionate heart, and felt much for the sisters in
their anxiety. Amy liked the idea, and gave her leave to arrange
the light closet next her room, hoping it would do her good.
"I wish I knew where all these pretty things would go when
Aunt March dies," she said, as she slowly replaced the shining
rosary and shut the jewel cases one by one.
"To you and your sisters. I know it, Madame confides in me.
I witnessed her will, and it is to be so," whispered Esther smiling.
"How nice! But I wish she'd let us have them now.
Procrastination is not agreeable," observed Amy, taking a last
look at the diamonds.
"It is too soon yet for the young ladies to wear these things.
The first one who is affianced will have the pearls, Madame has said
it, and I have a fancy that the little turquoise ring will be given
to you when you go, for Madame approves your good behavior and
"Do you think so? Oh, I'll be a lamb, if I can only have that
lovely ring! It's ever so much prettier than Kitty Bryant's. I do
like Aunt March after all." And Amy tried on the blue ring with a
delighted face and a firm resolve to earn it.
From that day she was a model of obedience, and the old lady
complacently admired the success of her training. Esther fitted
up the closet with a little table, placed a footstool before it,
and over it a picture taken from one of the shut-up rooms. She
thought it was of no great value, but, being appropriate, she
borrowed it, well knowing that Madame would never know it, nor
care if she did. It was, however, a very valuable copy of one of
the famous pictures of the world, and Amy's beauty-loving eyes were
never tired of looking up at the sweet face of the Divine Mother,
while her tender thoughts of her own were busy at her heart. On
the table she laid her little testament and hymnbook, kept a vase
always full of the best flowers Laurie brought her, and came every
day to 'sit alone' thinking good thoughts, and praying the dear
God to preserve her sister. Esther had given her a rosary of black
beads with a silver cross, but Amy hung it up and did not use it,
feeling doubtful as to its fitness for Protestant prayers.
The little girl was very sincere in all this, for being left
alone outside the safe home nest, she felt the need of some kind
hand to hold by so sorely that she instinctively turned to the
strong and tender Friend, whose fatherly love most closely
surrounds His little children. She missed her mother's help to
understand and rule herself, but having been taught where to look,
she did her best to find the way and walk in it confidingly. But,
Amy was a young pilgrim, and just now her burden seemed very heavy.
She tried to forget herself, to keep cheerful, and be satisfied with
doing right, though no one saw or praised her for it. In her first
effort at being very, very good, she decided to make her will, as
Aunt March had done, so that if she did fall ill and die, her
possessions might be justly and generously divided. It cost her a pang
even to think of giving up the little treasures which in her eyes
were as precious as the old lady's jewels.
During one of her play hours she wrote out the important
document as well as she could, with some help from Esther as
to certain legal terms, and when the good-natured Frenchwoman
had signed her name, Amy felt relieved and laid it by to show
Laurie, whom she wanted as a second witness. As it was a rainy
day, she went upstairs to amuse herself in one of the large
chambers, and took Polly with her for company. In this room
there was a wardrobe full of old-fashioned costumes with which
Esther allowed her to play, and it was her favorite amusement to
array herself in the faded brocades, and parade up and down before
the long mirror, making stately curtsies, and sweeping her train
about with a rustle which delighted her ears. So busy was she on
this day that she did not hear Laurie's ring nor see his face
peeping in at her as she gravely promenaded to and fro, flirting
her fan and tossing her head, on which she wore a great pink turban,
contrasting oddly with her blue brocade dress and yellow quilted
petticoat. She was obliged to walk carefully, for she had on
highheeled shoes, and, as Laurie told Jo afterward, it was a comical
sight to see her mince along in her gay suit, with Polly sidling
and bridling just behind her, imitating her as well as he could,
and occasionally stopping to laugh or exclaim, "Ain't we fine?
Get along, you fright! Hold your tongue! Kiss me, dear! Ha! Ha!"
Having with difficulty restrained an explosion of merriment,
lest it should offend her majesty, Laurie tapped and was graciously
"Sit down and rest while I put these things away, then I want
to consult you about a very serious matter," said Amy, when she
had shown her splendor and driven Polly into a corner. "That bird
is the trial of my life," she continued, removing the pink mountain
from her head, while Laurie seated himself astride a chair.
"Yesterday, when Aunt was asleep and I was trying to be as still as a
mouse, Polly began to squall and flap about in his cage, so I went
to let him out, and found a big spider there. I poked it out, and
it ran under the bookcase. Polly marched straight after it, stooped
down and peeped under the bookcase, saying, in his funny way, with a
cock of his eye, 'Come out and take a walk, my dear.' I couldn't help
laughing, which made Poll swear, and Aunt woke up and scolded us both."
"Did the spider accept the old fellow's invitation?" asked Laurie,
"Yes, out it came, and away ran Polly, frightened to death, and
scrambled up on Aunt's chair, calling out, 'Catch her! Catch her!
Catch her!' as I chased the spider."
"That's a lie! Oh, lor!" cried the parrot, pecking at Laurie's toes.
"I'd wring your neck if you were mine, you old torment," cried
Laurie, shaking his fist at the bird, who put his head on one side
and gravely croaked, "Allyluyer! bless your buttons, dear!"
"Now I'm ready," said Amy, shutting the wardrobe and taking a
piece of paper out of her pocket. "I want you to read that, please,
and tell me if it is legal and right. I felt I ought to do it, for
life is uncertain and I don't want any ill feeling over my tomb."
Laurie bit his lips, and turning a little from the pensive
speaker, read the following document, with praiseworthy gravity,
considering the spelling:
MY LAST WILL AND TESTIMENT
I, Amy Curtis March, being in my sane mind, go give and
bequeethe all my earthly property--viz. to wit:--namely
To my father, my best pictures, sketches, maps, and works
of art, including frames. Also my $100, to do what he likes with.
To my mother, all my clothes, except the blue apron with
pockets--also my likeness, and my medal, with much love.
To my dear sister Margaret, I give my turkquoise ring (if I
get it), also my green box with the doves on it, also my piece
of real lace for her neck, and my sketch of her as a memorial of
her 'little girl'.
To Jo I leave my breastpin, the one mended with sealing wax,
also my bronze inkstand--she lost the cover--and my most precious
plaster rabbit, because I am sorry I burned up her story.
To Beth (if she lives after me) I give my dolls and the
little bureau, my fan, my linen collars and my new slippers if
she can wear them being thin when she gets well. And I herewith
also leave her my regret that I ever made fun of old Joanna.
To my friend and neighbor Theodore Laurence I bequeethe my
paper mashay portfolio, my clay model of a horse though he did
say it hadn't any neck. Also in return for his great kindness
in the hour of affliction any one of my artistic works he likes,
Noter Dame is the best.
To our venerable benefactor Mr. Laurence I leave my purple
box with a looking glass in the cover which will be nice for
his pens and remind him of the departed girl who thanks him
for his favors to her family, especially Beth.
I wish my favorite playmate Kitty Bryant to have the blue
silk apron and my gold-bead ring with a kiss.
To Hannah I give the bandbox she wanted and all the patchwork
I leave hoping she 'will remember me, when it you see'.
And now having disposed of my most valuable property I hope
all will be satisfied and not blame the dead. I forgive everyone,
and trust we may all meet when the trump shall sound. Amen.
To this will and testiment I set my hand and seal on this
20th day of Nov. Anni Domino 1861.
Amy Curtis March
The last name was written in pencil, and Amy explained
that he was to rewrite it in ink and seal it up for her properly.
"What put it into your head? Did anyone tell you about Beth's
giving away her things?" asked Laurie soberly, as Amy laid a bit
of red tape, with sealing wax, a taper, and a standish before him.
She explained and then asked anxiously, "What about Beth?"
"I'm sorry I spoke, but as I did, I'll tell you. She felt so
ill one day that she told Jo she wanted to give her piano to Meg,
her cats to you, and the poor old doll to Jo, who would love it for
her sake. She was sorry she had so little to give, and left locks
of hair to the rest of us, and her best love to Grandpa. She never
thought of a will."
Laurie was signing and sealing as he spoke, and did not look
up till a great tear dropped on the paper. Amy's face was full
of trouble, but she only said, "Don't people put sort of
postscripts to their wills, sometimes?"
"Yes, 'codicils', they call them."
"Put one in mine then, that I wish all my curls cut off, and
given round to my friends. I forgot it, but I want it done though
it will spoil my looks."
Laurie added it, smiling at Amy's last and greatest sacrifice.
Then he amused her for an hour, and was much interested in all her
trials. But when he came to go, Amy held him back to whisper with
trembling lips, "Is there really any danger about Beth?"
"I'm afraid there is, but we must hope for the best, so don't
cry, dear." And Laurie put his arm about her with a brotherly
gesture which was very comforting.
When he had gone, she went to her little chapel, and sitting
in the twilight, prayed for Beth, with streaming tears and an
aching heart, feeling that a million turquoise rings would not
console her for the loss of her gentle little sister.
I don't think I have any words in which to tell the meeting
of the mother and daughters. Such hours are beautiful to live,
but very hard to describe, so I will leave it to the imagination
of my readers, merely saying that the house was full of genuine
happiness, and that Meg's tender hope was realized, for when Beth
woke from that long, healing sleep, the first objects on which
her eyes fell were the little rose and Mother's face. Too weak
to wonder at anything, she only smiled and nestled close in the
loving arms about her, feeling that the hungry longing was
satisfied at last. Then she slept again, and the girls waited upon
their mother, for she would not unclasp the thin hand which
clung to hers even in sleep.
Hannah had 'dished up' an astonishing breakfast for the
traveler, finding it impossible to vent her excitement in any
other way, and Meg and Jo fed their mother like dutiful young
storks, while they listened to her whispered account of Father's
state, Mr. Brooke's promise to stay and nurse him, the delays
which the storm occasioned on the homeward journey, and the
unspeakable comfort Laurie's hopeful face had given her when she
arrived, worn out with fatigue, anxiety, and cold.
What a strange yet pleasant day that was. So brilliant and
gay without, for all the world seemed abroad to welcome the first
snow. So quiet and reposeful within, for everyone slept, spent
with watching, and a Sabbath stillness reigned through the house,
while nodding Hannah mounted guard at the door. With a blissful
sense of burdens lifted off, Meg and Jo closed their weary eyes,
and lay at rest, like storm-beaten boats safe at anchor in a
quiet harbor. Mrs. March would not leave Beth's side, but rested
in the big chair, waking often to look at, touch, and brood over
her child, like a miser over some recovered treasure.
Laurie meanwhile posted off to comfort Amy, and told his
story so well that Aunt March actually 'sniffed' herself, and
never once said "I told you so". Amy came out so strong on
this occasion that I think the good thoughts in the little chapel
really began to bear fruit. She dried her tears quickly,
restrained her impatience to see her mother, and never even thought
of the turquoise ring, when the old lady heartily agreed in Laurie's
opinion, that she behaved 'like a capital little woman'. Even
Polly seemed impressed, for he called her a good girl, blessed
her buttons, and begged her to "come and take a walk, dear", in
his most affable tone. She would very gladly have gone out to
enjoy the bright wintry weather, but discovering that Laurie
was dropping with sleep in spite of manful efforts to conceal
the fact, she persuaded him to rest on the sofa, while she wrote
a note to her mother. She was a long time about it, and when she
returned, he was stretched out with both arms under his head,
sound asleep, while Aunt March had pulled down the curtains and
sat doing nothing in an unusual fit of benignity.
After a while, they began to think he was not going to wake
up till night, and I'm not sure that he would, had he not been
effectually roused by Amy's cry of joy at sight of her mother.
There probably were a good many happy little girls in and about
the city that day, but it is my private opinion that Amy was the
happiest of all, when she sat in her mother's lap and told her
trials, receiving consolation and compensation in the shape of
approving smiles and fond caresses. They were alone together
in the chapel, to which her mother did not object when its
purpose was explained to her.
"On the contrary, I like it very much, dear," looking from
the dusty rosary to the well-worn little book, and the lovely
picture with its garland of evergreen. "It is an excellent plan
to have some place where we can go to be quiet, when things vex
or grieve us. There are a good many hard times in this life of
ours, but we can always bear them if we ask help in the right
way. I think my little girl is learning this."
"Yes, Mother, and when I go home I mean to have a corner
in the big closet to put my books and the copy of that picture
which I've tried to make. The woman's face is not good, it's
too beautiful for me to draw, but the baby is done better, and
I love it very much. I like to think He was a little child once,
for then I don't seem so far away, and that helps me."
As Amy pointed to the smiling Christ child on his Mother's
knee, Mrs. March saw something on the lifted hand that made her
smile. She said nothing, but Amy understood the look, and after
a minute's pause, she added gravely, "I wanted to speak to you
about this, but I forgot it. Aunt gave me the ring today. She
called me to her and kissed me, and put it on my finger, and
said I was a credit to her, and she'd like to keep me always.
She gave that funny guard to keep the turquoise on, as it's too
big. I'd like to wear them Mother, can I?"
"They are very pretty, but I think you're rather too young
for such ornaments, Amy," said Mrs. March, looking at the plump
little hand, with the band of sky-blue stones on the forefinger,
and the quaint guard formed of two tiny golden hands clasped
"I'll try not to be vain," said Amy. "I don't think I like
it only because it's so pretty, but I want to wear it as the girl
in the story wore her bracelet, to remind me of something."
"Do you mean Aunt March?" asked her mother, laughing.
"No, to remind me not to be selfish." Amy looked so
earnest and sincere about it that her mother stopped laughing,
and listened respectfully to the little plan.
"I've thought a great deal lately about my 'bundle of
naughties', and being selfish is the largest one in it, so I'm
going to try hard to cure it, if I can. Beth isn't selfish, and
that's the reason everyone loves her and feels so bad at the
thoughts of losing her. People wouldn't feel so bad about me
if I was sick, and I don't deserve to have them, but I'd like
to be loved and missed by a great many friends, so I'm going
to try and be like Beth all I can. I'm apt to forget my
resolutions, but if I had something always about me to remind me,
I guess I should do better. May we try this way?"
"Yes, but I have more faith in the corner of the big closet.
Wear your ring, dear, and do your best. I think you will prosper,
for the sincere wish to be good is half the battle. Now I must
go back to Beth. Keep up your heart, little daughter, and we will
soon have you home again."
That evening while Meg was writing to her father to report
the traveler's safe arrival, Jo slipped upstairs into Beth's room,
and finding her mother in her usual place, stood a minute twisting
her fingers in her hair, with a worried gesture and an undecided
"What is it, deary?" asked Mrs. March, holding out her hand,
with a face which invited confidence.
"I want to tell you something, Mother."
"How quickly you guessed! Yes, it's about her, and though
it's a little thing, it fidgets me."
"Beth is asleep. Speak low, and tell me all about it. That
Moffat hasn't been here, I hope?" asked Mrs. March rather sharply.
"No. I should have shut the door in his face if he had,"
said Jo, settling herself on the floor at her mother's feet. "Last
summer Meg left a pair of gloves over at the Laurences' and only
one was returned. We forgot about it, till Teddy told me that Mr.
Brooke owned that he liked Meg but didn't dare say so, she was so
young and he so poor. Now, isn't it a dreadful state of things?"
"Do you think Meg cares for him?" asked Mrs. March, with an
"Mercy me! I don't know anything about love and such
nonsense!" cried Jo, with a funny mixture of interest and contempt.
"In novels, the girls show it by starting and blushing, fainting
away, growing thin, and acting like fools. Now Meg does not do
anything of the sort. She eats and drinks and sleeps like a
sensible creature, she looks straight in my face when I talk
about that man, and only blushes a little bit when Teddy jokes
about lovers. I forbid him to do it, but he doesn't mind me as
"Then you fancy that Meg is not interested in John?"
"Who?" cried Jo, staring.
"Mr. Brooke. I call him 'John' now. We fell into the way
of doing so at the hospital, and he likes it."
"Oh, dear! I know you'll take his part. He's been good to
Father, and you won't send him away, but let Meg marry him, if
she wants to. Mean thing! To go petting Papa and helping you,
just to wheedle you into liking him." And Jo pulled her hair
again with a wrathful tweak.
"My dear, don't get angry about it, and I will tell you how
it happened. John went with me at Mr. Laurence's request, and
was so devoted to poor Father that we couldn't help getting fond
of him. He was perfectly open and honorable about Meg, for he
told us he loved her, but would earn a comfortable home before
he asked her to marry him. He only wanted our leave to love her
and work for her, and the right to make her love him if he could.
He is a truly excellent young man, and we could not refuse to
listen to him, but I will not consent to Meg's engaging herself
"Of course not. It would be idiotic! I knew there was
mischief brewing. I felt it, and now it's worse than I imagined.
I just wish I could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in the
This odd arrangement made Mrs. March smile, but she said
gravely, "Jo, I confide in you and don't wish you to say anything
to Meg yet. When John comes back, and I see them together, I can
judge better of her feelings toward him."
"She'll see those handsome eyes that she talks about, and
then it will be all up with her. She's got such a soft heart,
it will melt like butter in the sun if anyone looks sentimentlly
at her. She read the short reports he sent more than she did
your letters, and pinched me when I spoke of it, and likes brown
eyes, and doesn't think John an ugly name, and she'll go and fall
in love, and there's an end of peace and fun, and cozy times together.
I see it all! They'll go lovering around the house, and we shall
have to dodge. Meg will be absorbed and no good to me any more.
Brooke will scratch up a fortune somehow, carry her off,
and make a hole in the family, and I shall break my heart, and
everything will be abominably uncomfortable. Oh, dear me! Why
weren't we all boys, then there wouldn't be any bother."
Jo leaned her chin on her knees in a disconsolate attitude
and shook her fist at the reprehensible John. Mrs. March sighed,
and Jo looked up with an air of relief.
"You don't like it, Mother? I'm glad of it. Let's send him
about his business, and not tell Meg a word of it, but all be
happy together as we always have been."
"I did wrong to sigh, Jo. It is natural and right you should
all go to homes of your own in time, but I do want to keep my girls
as long as I can, and I am sorry that this happened so soon, for
Meg is only seventeen and it will be some years before John can
make a home for her. Your father and I have agreed that she shall
not bind herself in any way, nor be married, before twenty. If
she and John love one another, they can wait, and test the love
by doing so. She is conscientious, and I have no fear of her
treating him unkindly. My pretty, tender hearted girl! I hope
things will go happily with her."
"Hadn't you rather have her marry a rich man?" asked Jo, as
her mother's voice faltered a little over the last words.
"Money is a good and useful thing, Jo, and I hope my girls
will never feel the need of it too bitterly, nor be tempted by
too much. I should like to know that John was firmly established
in some good business, which gave him an income large enough to
keep free from debt and make Meg comfortable. I'm not ambitious
for a splendid fortune, a fashionable position, or a great name
for my girls. If rank and money come with love and virtue, also,
I should accept them gratefully, and enjoy your good fortune, but
I know, by experience, how much genuine happiness can be had in
a plain little house, where the daily bread is earned, and some
privations give sweetness to the few pleasures. I am content to
see Meg begin humbly, for if I am not mistaken, she will be rich
in the possession of a good man's heart, and that is better than
"I understand, Mother, and quite agree, but I'm disappointed
about Meg, for I'd planned to have her marry Teddy by-and-by and
sit in the lap of luxury all her days. Wouldn't it be nice?"
asked Jo, looking up with a brighter face.
"He is younger than she, you know," began Mrs. March, but Jo
broke in . . .
"Only a little, he's old for his age, and tall, and can be
quite grown-up in his manners if he likes. Then he's rich and
generous and good, and loves us all, and I say it's a pity my
plan is spoiled."
"I'm afraid Laurie is hardly grown-up enough for Meg, and
altogether too much of a weathercock just now for anyone to
depend on. Don't make plans, Jo, but let time and their own
hearts mate your friends. We can't meddle safely in such
matters, and had better not get 'romantic rubbish' as you
call it, into our heads, lest it spoil our friendship."
"Well, I won't, but I hate to see things going all crisscross
and getting snarled up, when a pull here and a snip there
would straighten it out. I wish wearing flatirons on our heads
would keep us from growing up. But buds will be roses, and
kittens cats, more's the pity!"
"What's that about flatirons and cats?" asked Meg, as she
crept into the room with the finished letter in her hand.
"Only one of my stupid speeches. I'm going to bed. Come,
Peggy," said Jo, unfolding herself like an animated puzzle.
"Quite right, and beautifully written. Please add that I
send my love to John," said Mrs. March, as she glanced over
the letter and gave it back.
"Do you call him 'John'?" asked Meg, smiling, with her
innocent eyes looking down into her mother's.
"Yes, he has been like a son to us, and we are very fond of him,"
replied Mrs. March, returning the look with a keen one.
"I'm glad of that, he is so lonely. Good night, Mother,
dear. It is so inexpressibly comfortable to have you here,"
was Meg's answer.
The kiss her mother gave her was a very tender one, and
as she went away, Mrs. March said, with a mixture of satisfaction
and regret, "She does not love John yet, but will soon learn to."
LAURIE MAKES MISCHIEF, AND JO MAKES PEACE
Jo's face was a study next day, for the secret rather weighed
upon her, and she found it hard not to look mysterious and
important. Meg observed it, but did not trouble herself to make
inquiries, for she had learned that the best way to manage Jo was
by the law of contraries, so she felt sure of being told everything
if she did not ask. She was rather surprised, therefore,
when the silence remained unbroken, and Jo assumed a patronizing
air, which decidedly aggravated Meg, who in turn assumed an air
of dignified reserve and devoted herself to her mother. This left
Jo to her own devices, for Mrs. March had taken her place as nurse,
and bade her rest, exercise, and amuse herself after her long
confinement. Amy being gone, Laurie was her only refuge, and much
as she enjoyed his society, she rather dreaded him just then, for
he was an incorrigible tease, and she feared he would coax the
secret from her.
She was quite right, for the mischief-loving lad no sooner
suspected a mystery than he set himself to find it out, and led
Jo a trying life of it. He wheedled, bribed, ridiculed,
threatened, and scolded; affected indifference, that he might surprise
the truth from her; declared he knew, then that he didn't care;
and at last, by dint of perseverance, he satisfied himself that
it concerned Meg and Mr. Brooke. Feeling indignant that he was
not taken into his tutor's confidence, he set his wits to work
to devise some proper retaliation for the slight.
Meg meanwhile had apparently forgotten the matter and was
absorbed in preparations for her father's return, but all of a
sudden a change seemed to come over her, and, for a day or two,
she was quite unlike herself. She started when spoken to,
blushed when looked at, was very quiet, and sat over her sewing,
with a timid, troubled look on her face. To her mother's inquiries
she answered that she was quite well, and Jo's she silenced by
begging to be let alone.
"She feels it in the air--love, I mean--and she's going very
fast. She's got most of the symptoms--is twittery and cross,
doesn't eat, lies awake, and mopes in corners. I caught her
singing that song he gave her, and once she said 'John', as you
do, and then turned as red as a poppy. Whatever shall we do?"
said Jo, looking ready for any measures, however violent.
"Nothing but wait. Let her alone, be kind and patient, and
Father's coming will settle everything," replied her mother.
"Here's a note to you, Meg, all sealed up. How odd! Teddy
never seals mine," said Jo next day, as she distributed the
contents of the little post office.
Mrs. March and Jo were deep in their own affairs, when a
sound from Meg made them look up to see her staring at her
note with a frightened face.
"My child, what is it?" cried her mother, running to her,
while Jo tried to take the paper which had done the mischief.
"It's all a mistake, he didn't send it. Oh, Jo, how could
you do it?" and Meg hid her face in her hands, crying as if her
heart were quite broken.
"Me! I've done nothing! What's she talking about?" cried
Meg's mild eyes kindled with anger as she pulled a crumpled
note from her pocket and threw it at Jo, saying reproachfully,
"You wrote it, and that bad boy helped you. How could you be
so rude, so mean, and cruel to us both?"
Jo hardly heard her, for she and her mother were reading the
note, which was written in a peculiar hand.
"My Dearest Margaret,
"I can no longer restrain my passion, and must know my fate
before I return. I dare not tell your parents yet, but I think
they would consent if they knew that we adored one another. Mr.
Laurence will help me to some good place, and then, my sweet
girl, you will make me happy. I implore you to say nothing to
your family yet, but to send one word of hope through Laurie to,
"Your devoted John."
"Oh, the little villain! That's the way he meant to pay me
for keeping my word to Mother. I'll give him a hearty scolding
and bring him over to beg pardon," cried Jo, burning to execute
immediate justice. But her mother held her back, saying, with
a look she seldom wore . . .
"Stop, Jo, you must clear yourself first. You have played
so many pranks that I am afraid you have had a hand in this."
"On my word, Mother, I haven't! I never saw that note
before, and don't know anything about it, as true as I live!"
said Jo, so earnestly that they believed her. "If I had taken
part in it I'd have done it better than this, and have written
a sensible note. I should think you'd have known Mr. Brooke
wouldn't write such stuff as that," she added, scornfully
tossing down the paper.
"It's like his writing," faltered Meg, comparing it with the
note in her hand.
"Oh, Meg, you didn't answer it?" cried Mrs. March quickly.
"Yes, I did!" and Meg hid her face again, overcome with shame.
"Here's a scrape! Do let me bring that wicked boy over to
explain and be lectured. I can't rest till I get hold of him."
And Jo made for the door again.
"Hush! Let me handle this, for it is worse than I thought.
Margaret, tell me the whole story," commanded Mrs. March, sitting
down by Meg, yet keeping hold of Jo, lest she should fly off.
"I received the first letter from Laurie, who didn't look
as if he knew anything about it," began Meg, without looking up.
"I was worried at first and meant to tell you, then I remembered
how you liked Mr. Brooke, so I thought you wouldn't mind if I
kept my little secret for a few days. I'm so silly that I liked
to think no one knew, and while I was deciding what to say, I
felt like the girls in books, who have such things to do. Forgive
me, Mother, I'm paid for my silliness now. I never can look him
in the face again."
"What did you say to him?" asked Mrs. March.
"I only said I was too young to do anything about it yet,
that I didn't wish to have secrets from you, and he must speak
to father. I was very grateful for his kindness, and would be
his friend, but nothing more, for a long while."
Mrs. March smiled, as if well pleased, and Jo clapped her
hands, exclaiming, with a laugh, "You are almost equal to
Caroline Percy, who was a pattern of prudence! Tell on, Meg.
What did he say to that?"
"He writes in a different way entirely, telling me that he
never sent any love letter at all, and is very sorry that my
roguish sister, Jo, should take liberties with our names. It's
very kind and respectful, but think how dreadful for me!"
Meg leaned against her mother, looking the image of despair,
and Jo tramped about the room, calling Laurie names. All of a
sudden she stopped, caught up the two notes, and after looking
at them closely, said decidedly, "I don't believe Brooke ever
saw either of these letters. Teddy wrote both, and keeps yours
to crow over me with because I wouldn't tell him my secret."
"Don't have any secrets, Jo. Tell it to Mother and keep
out of trouble, as I should have done," said Meg warningly.
"Bless you, child! Mother told me."
"That will do, Jo. I'll comfort Meg while you go and get
Laurie. I shall sift the matter to the bottom, and put a stop
to such pranks at once."
Away ran Jo, and Mrs. March gently told Meg Mr. Brooke's
real feelings. "Now, dear, what are your own? Do you love him
enough to wait till he can make a home for you, or will you
keep yourself quite free for the present?"
"I've been so scared and worried, I don't want to have
anything to do with lovers for a long while, perhaps never,"
answered Meg petulantly. "If John doesn't know anything about
this nonsense, don't tell him, and make Jo and Laurie hold their
tongues. I won't be deceived and plagued and made a fool of.
It's a shame!"
Seeing Meg's usually gentle temper was roused and her
pride hurt by this mischievous joke, Mrs. March soothed her
by promises of entire silence and great discretion for the
future. The instant Laurie's step was heard in the hall, Meg
fled into the study, and Mrs. March received the culprit alone.
Jo had not told him why he was wanted, fearing he wouldn't come,
but he knew the minute he saw Mrs. March's face, and stood
twirling his hat with a guilty air which convicted him at once.
Jo was dismissed, but chose to march up and down the hall like
a sentinel, having some fear that the prisoner might bolt. The
sound of voices in the parlor rose and fell for half an hour,
but what happened during that interview the girls never knew.
When they were called in, Laurie was standing by their
mother with such a penitent face that Jo forgave him on the
spot, but did not think it wise to betray the fact. Meg received
his humble apology, and was much comforted by the assurance that
Brooke knew nothing of the joke.
"I'll never tell him to my dying day, wild horses shan't
drag it out of me, so you'll forgive me, Meg, and I'll do
anything to show how out-and-out sorry I am," he added,
looking very much ashamed of himself.
"I'll try, but it was a very ungentlemanly thing to do, I
didn't think you could be so sly and malicious, Laurie," replied
Meg, trying to hide her maidenly confusion under a gravely
"It was altogether abominable, and I don't deserve to be
spoken to for a month, but you will, though, won't you?" And
Laurie folded his hands together with such and imploring gesture,
as he spoke in his irresistibly persuasive tone, that it was
impossible to frown upon him in spite of his scandalous behavior.
Meg pardoned him, and Mrs. March's grave face relaxed, in
spite of her efforts to keep sober, when she heard him declare
that he would atone for his sins by all sorts of penances, and
abase himself like a worm before the injured damsel.
Jo stood aloof, meanwhile, trying to harden her heart
against him, and succeeding only in primming up her face into
an expression of entire disapprobation. Laurie looked at her
once or twice, but as she showed no sign of relenting, he felt
injured, and turned his back on her till the others were done
with him, when he made her a low bow and walked off without a
As soon as he had gone, she wished she had been more forgiving,
and when Meg and her mother went upstairs, she felt
lonely and longed for Teddy. After resisting for some time,
she yielded to the impulse, and armed with a book to return,
went over to the big house.
"Is Mr. Laurence in?" asked Jo, of a housemaid, who was
"Yes, Miss, but I don't believe he's seeable just yet."
"Why not? Is he ill?"
"La, no Miss, but he's had a scene with Mr. Laurie, who is
in one of his tantrums about something, which vexes the old
gentleman, so I dursn't go nigh him."
"Where is Laurie?"
"Shut up in his room, and he won't answer, though I've been
a-tapping. I don't know what's to become of the dinner, for it's
ready, and there's no one to eat it."
"I'll go and see what the matter is. I'm not afraid of either
Up went Jo, and knocked smartly on the door of Laurie's
"Stop that, or I'll open the door and make you!" called out
the young gentleman in a threatening tone.
Jo immediately knocked again. The door flew open, and in
she bounced before Laurie could recover from his surprise. Seeing
that he really was out of temper, Jo, who knew how to manage him,
assumed a contrite expression, and going artistically down upon
her knees, said meekly, "Please forgive me for being so cross. I
came to make it up, and can't go away till I have."
"It's all right. Get up, and don't be a goose, Jo," was the
cavalier reply to her petition.
"Thank you, I will. Could I ask what's the matter? You don't
look exactly easy in your mind."
"I've been shaken, and I won't bear it!" growled Laurie indignantly.
"Who did it?" demanded Jo.
"Grandfather. If it had been anyone else I'd have . . ."
And the injured youth finished his sentence by an energetic
gesture of the right arm.
"That's nothing. I often shake you, and you don't mind,"
said Jo soothingly.
"Pooh! You're a girl, and it's fun, but I'll allow no man
to shake me!"
"I don't think anyone would care to try it, if you looked
as much like a thundercloud as you do now. Why were you treated
"Just because I wouldn't say what your mother wanted me for.
I'd promised not to tell, and of course I wasn't going to break
"Couldn't you satisfy your grandpa in any other way?"
"No, he would have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing
but the truth. I'd have told my part of the scrape, if I could
without bringing Meg in. As I couldn't, I held my tongue, and
bore the scolding till the old gentleman collared me. Then I
bolted, for fear I should forget myself."
"It wasn't nice, but he's sorry, I know, so go down and
make up. I'll help you."
"Hanged if I do! I'm not going to be lectured and pummelled
by everyone, just for a bit of a frolic. I was sorry about Meg,
and begged pardon like a man, but I won't do it again,
when I wasn't in the wrong."
"He didn't know that."
"He ought to trust me, and not act as if I was a baby. It's
no use, Jo, he's got to learn that I'm able to take care of
myself, and don't need anyone's apron string to hold on by."
"What pepper pots you are!" sighed Jo. "How do you mean
to settle this affair?"
"Well, he ought to beg pardon, and believe me when I say I
can't tell him what the fuss's about."
"Bless you! He won't do that."
"I won't go down till he does."
"Now, Teddy, be sensible. Let it pass, and I'll explain
what I can. You can't stay here, so what's the use of being
"I don't intend to stay here long, anyway. I'll slip off and
take a journey somewhere, and when Grandpa misses me he'll come
round fast enough."
"I dare say, but you ought not to go and worry him."
"Don't preach. I'll go to Washington and see Brooke. It's
gay there, and I'll enjoy myself after the troubles."
"What fun you'd have! I wish I could run off too," said
Jo, forgetting her part of mentor in lively visions of martial
life at the capital.
"Come on, then! Why not? You go and surprise your father,
and I'll stir up old Brooke. It would be a glorious joke. Let's
do it, Jo. We'll leave a letter saying we are all right, and trot
off at once. I've got money enough. It will do you good, and no
harm, as you go to your father."
For a moment Jo looked as if she would agree, for wild as
the plan was, it just suited her. She was tired of care and
confinement, longed for change, and thoughts of her father
blended temptingly with the novel charms of camps and hospitals,
liberty and fun. Her eyes kindled as they turned wistfully
toward the window, but they fell on the old house opposite,
and she shook her head with sorrowful decision.
"If I was a boy, we'd run away together, and have a capital time,
but as I'm a miserable girl, I must be proper and stop at home.
Don't tempt me, Teddy, it's a crazy plan."
"That's the fun of it," began Laurie, who had got a willful
fit on him and was possessed to break out of bounds in some way.
"Hold your tongue!" cried Jo, covering her ears. "'Prunes
and prisms' are my doom, and I may as well make up my mind to
it. I came here to moralize, not to hear things that make me
skip to think of."
"I know Meg would wet-blanket such a proposal, but I
thought you had more spirit," began Laurie insinuatingly.
"Bad boy, be quiet! Sit down and think of your own sins,
don't go making me add to mine. If I get your grandpa to
apologize for the shaking, will you give up running away?"
asked Jo seriously.
"Yes, but you won't do it," answered Laurie, who wished
to make up, but felt that his outraged dignity must be
"If I can manage the young one, I can the old one," muttered Jo,
as she walked away, leaving Laurie bent over a railroad map
with his head propped up on both hands.
"Come in!" and Mr. Laurence's gruff voice sounded gruffer
than ever, as Jo tapped at his door.
"It's only me, Sir, come to return a book," she said blandly,
as she entered.
"Want any more?" asked the old gentleman, looking grim and
vexed, but trying not to show it.
"Yes, please. I like old Sam so well, I think I'll try the
second volume," returned Jo, hoping to propitiate him by
accepting a second dose of Boswell's Johnson, as he had recommended
that lively work.
The shaggy eyebrows unbent a little as he rolled the steps
toward the shelf where the Johnsonian literature was placed. Jo
skipped up, and sitting on the top step, affected to be searching
for her book, but was really wondering how best to introduce the
dangerous object of her visit. Mr. Laurence seemed to suspect
that something was brewing in her mind, for after taking several
brisk turns about the room, he faced round on her, speaking so
abruptly that Rasselas tumbled face downward on the floor.
"What has that boy been about? Don't try to shield him. I
know he has been in mischief by the way he acted when he came
home. I can't get a word from him, and when I threatened to
shake the truth out of him he bolted upstairs and locked himself
into his room."
"He did wrong, but we forgave him, and all promised not to
say a word to anyone," began Jo reluctantly.
"That won't do. He shall not shelter himself behind a promise
from you softhearted girls. If he's done anything amiss, he
shall confess, beg pardon, and be punished. Out with it, Jo.
I won't be kept in the dark."
Mr. Laurence looked so alarming and spoke so sharply that Jo
would have gladly run away, if she could, but she was perched aloft
on the steps, and he stood at the foot, a lion in the path, so she
had to stay and brave it out.
"Indeed, Sir, I cannot tell. Mother forbade it. Laurie has
confessed, asked pardon, and been punished quite enough. We don't
keep silence to shield him, but someone else, and it will make
more trouble if you interfere. Please don't. It was partly my
fault, but it's all right now. So let's forget it, and talk about
the _Rambler_ or something pleasant."
"Hang the _Rambler!_ Come down and give me your word that
this harum-scarum boy of mine hasn't done anything ungrateful or
impertinent. If he has, after all your kindness to him, I'll
thrash him with my own hands."
The threat sounded awful, but did not alarm Jo, for she knew
the irascible old gentleman would never lift a finger against his
grandson, whatever he might say to the contrary. She obediently
descended, and made as light of the prank as she could without
betraying Meg or forgetting the truth.
"Hum . . . ha . . . well, if the boy held his tongue
because he promised, and not from obstinacy, I'll forgive him.
He's a stubborn fellow and hard to manage," said Mr. Laurence,
rubbing up his hair till it looked as if he had been out in a gale,
and smoothing the frown from his brow with an air of relief.
"So am I, but a kind word will govern me when all the king's
horses and all the king's men couldn't," said Jo, trying to say
a kind word for her friend, who seemed to get out of one scrape
only to fall into another.
"You think I'm not kind to him, hey?" was the sharp answer.
"Oh, dear no, Sir. You are rather too kind sometimes, and
then just a trifle hasty when he tries your patience. Don't you
think you are?"
Jo was determined to have it out now, and tried to look
quite placid, though she quaked a little after her bold speech.
To her great relief and surprise, the old gentleman only threw
his spectacles onto the table with a rattle and exclaimed frankly,
"You're right, girl, I am! I love the boy, but he tries my
patience past bearing, and I know how it will end, if we go on so."
"I'll tell you, he'll run away." Jo was sorry for that speech the
minute it was made. She meant to warn him that Laurie would not bear
much restraint, and hoped he would be more forebearing with the lad.
Mr. Laurence's ruddy face changed suddenly, and he sat down,
with a troubled glance at the picture of a handsome man, which
hung over his table. It was Laurie's father, who had run away
in his youth, and married against the imperious old man's will.
Jo fancied he remembered and regretted the past, and she wished
she had held her tongue.
"He won't do it unless he is very much worried, and only
threatens it sometimes, when he gets tired of studying. I often
think I should like to, especially since my hair was cut, so if
you ever miss us, you may advertise for two boys and look among
the ships bound for India."
She laughed as she spoke, and Mr. Laurence looked relieved,
evidently taking the whole as a joke.
"You hussy, how dare you talk in that way? Where's your
respect for me, and your proper bringing up? Bless the boys
and girls! What torments they are, yet we can't do without
them," he said, pinching her cheeks good-humoredly. "Go and
bring that boy down to his dinner, tell him it's all right, and
advise him not to put on tragedy airs with his grandfather. I
won't bear it."
"He won't come, Sir. He feels badly because you didn't believe him
when he said he couldn't tell. I think the shaking hurt his feelings
Jo tried to look pathetic but must have failed, for Mr.
Laurence began to laugh, and she knew the day was won.
"I'm sorry for that, and ought to thank him for not shaking
me, I suppose. What the dickens does the fellow expect?" and
the old gentleman looked a trifle ashamed of his own testiness.
"If I were you, I'd write him an apology, Sir. He says he
won't come down till he has one, and talks about Washington, and
goes on in an absurd way. A formal apology will make him see
how foolish he is, and bring him down quite amiable. Try it. He
likes fun, and this way is better than talking. I'll carry it
up, and teach him his duty."
Mr. Laurence gave her a sharp look, and put on his spectacles,
saying slowly, "You're a sly puss, but I don't mind being
managed by you and Beth. Here, give me a bit of paper,
and let us have done with this nonsense."
The note was written in the terms which one gentleman would
use to another after offering some deep insult. Jo dropped a kiss
on the top of Mr. Laurence's bald head, and ran up to slip the
apology under Laurie's door, advising him through the keyhole to
be submissive, decorous, and a few other agreeable impossibilities.
Finding the door locked again, she left the note to do its work,
and was going quietly away, when the young gentleman slid down
the banisters, and waited for her at the bottom, saying, with his
most virtuous expression of countenance, "What a good fellow you
are, Jo! Did you get blown up?" he added, laughing.
"No, he was pretty mild, on the whole."
"Ah! I got it all round. Even you cast me off over there,
and I felt just ready to go to the deuce," he began apologetically.
"Don't talk that way, turn over a new leaf and begin again,
Teddy, my son."
"I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I
used to spoil my copybooks, and I make so many beginnings there
never will be an end," he said dolefully.
"Go and eat your dinner, you'll feel better after it. Men
always croak when they are hungry," and Jo whisked out at the
front door after that.
"That's a 'label' on my 'sect'," answered Laurie, quoting
Amy, as he went to partake of humble pie dutifully with his
grandfather, who was quite saintly in temper and overwhelmingly
respectful in manner all the rest of the day.
Everyone thought the matter ended and the little cloud
blown over, but the mischief was done, for though others forgot
it, Meg remembered. She never alluded to a certain person, but
she thought of him a good deal, dreamed dreams more than ever,
and once Jo, rummaging her sister's desk for stamps, found a
bit of paper scribbled over with the words, 'Mrs. John Brooke',
whereat she groaned tragically and cast it into the fire, feeling
that Laurie's prank had hastened the evil day for her.
Like sunshine after a storm were the peaceful weeks which
followed. The invalids improved rapidly, and Mr. March began
to talk of returning early in the new year. Beth was soon able
to lie on the study sofa all day, amusing herself with the
well-beloved cats at first, and in time with doll's sewing, which had
fallen sadly behind-hand. Her once active limbs were so stiff
and feeble that Jo took her for a daily airing about the house
in her strong arms. Meg cheerfully blackened and burned her
white hands cooking delicate messes for 'the dear', while Amy,
a loyal slave of the ring, celebrated her return by giving away as
many of her treasures as she could prevail on her sisters to accept.
As Christmas approached, the usual mysteries began to haunt
the house, and Jo frequently convulsed the family by proposing
utterly impossible or magnificently absurd ceremonies, in honor
of this unusually merry Christmas. Laurie was equally impracticable,
and would have had bonfires, skyrockets, and triumphal arches,
if he had had his own way. After many skirmishes and snubbings,
the ambitious pair were considered effectually quenched
and went about with forlorn faces, which were rather belied
by explosions of laughter when the two got together.
Several days of unusually mild weather fitly ushered in a
splendid Christmas Day. Hannah 'felt in her bones' that it was
going to be an unusually fine day, and she proved herself a
true prophetess, for everybody and everything seemed bound to
produce a grand success. To begin with, Mr. March wrote that
he should soon be with them, then Beth felt uncommonly well
that morning, and, being dressed in her mother's gift, a soft
crimson merino wrapper, was borne in high triumph to the window
to behold the offering of Jo and Laurie. The Unquenchables had
done their best to be worthy of the name, for like elves they
had worked by night and conjured up a comical surprise. Out in
the garden stood a stately snow maiden, crowned with holly,
bearing a basket of fruit and flowers in one hand, a great roll
of music in the other, a perfect rainbow of an Afghan round her
chilly shoulders, and a Christmas carol issuing from her lips
on a pink paper streamer.
THE JUNGFRAU TO BETH
God bless you, dear Queen Bess!
May nothing you dismay,
But health and peace and happiness
Be yours, this Christmas day.
Here's fruit to feed our busy bee,
And flowers for her nose.
Here's music for her pianee,
An afghan for her toes,
A portrait of Joanna, see,
By Raphael No. 2,
Who laboured with great industry
To make it fair and true.
Accept a ribbon red, I beg,
For Madam Purrer's tail,
And ice cream made by lovely Peg,
A Mont Blanc in a pail.
Their dearest love my makers laid
Within my breast of snow.
Accept it, and the Alpine maid,
From Laurie and from Jo.
How Beth laughed when she saw it, how Laurie ran up and
down to bring in the gifts, and what ridiculous speeches Jo
made as she presented them.
"I'm so full of happiness, that if Father was only here, I
couldn't hold one drop more," said Beth, quite sighing with
contentment as Jo carried her off to the study to rest after the
excitement, and to refresh herself with some of the delicious
grapes the 'Jungfrau' had sent her.
"So am I," added Jo, slapping the pocket wherein reposed
the long-desired _Undine and Sintram_.
"I'm sure I am," echoed Amy, poring over the engraved copy
of the Madonna and Child, which her mother had given her in a
"Of course I am!" cried Meg, smoothing the silvery folds of
her first silk dress, for Mr. Laurence had insisted on giving it.
"How can I be otherwise?" said Mrs. March gratefully, as her
eyes went from her husband's letter to Beth's smiling face, and
her hand carressed the brooch made of gray and golden, chestnut
and dark brown hair, which the girls had just fastened on her
Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in
the delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort it is. Half
an hour after everyone had said they were so happy they could
only hold one drop more, the drop came. Laurie opened the parlor
door and popped his head in very quietly. He might just as well
have turned a somersault and uttered an Indian war whoop, for his
face was so full of suppressed excitement and his voice so
treacherously joyful that everyone jumped up, though he only said,
in a queer, breathless voice, "Here's another Christmas present
for the March family."
Before the words were well out of his mouth, he was whisked
away somehow, and in his place appeared a tall man, muffled up to
the eyes, leaning on the arm of another tall man, who tried to say
something and couldn't. Of course there was a general stampede,
and for several minutes everybody seemed to lose their wits, for
the strangest things were done, and no one said a word.
Mr. March became invisible in the embrace of four pairs of
loving arms. Jo disgraced herself by nearly fainting away, and
had to be doctored by Laurie in the china closet. Mr. Brooke
kissed Meg entirely by mistake, as he somewhat incoherently
explained. And Amy, the dignified, tumbled over a stool, and never
stopping to get up, hugged and cried over her father's boots in
the most touching manner. Mrs. March was the first to recover
herself, and held up her hand with a warning, "Hush! Remember Beth."
But it was too late. The study door flew open, the little
red wrapper appeared on the threshold, joy put strength into the
feeble limbs, and Beth ran straight into her father's arms. Never
mind what happened just after that, for the full hearts overflowed,
washing away the bitterness of the past and leaving only the
sweetness of the present.
It was not at all romantic, but a hearty laugh set everybody
straight again, for Hannah was discovered behind the door, sobbing
over the fat turkey, which she had forgotten to put down when she
rushed up from the kitchen. As the laugh subsided, Mrs. March began
to thank Mr. Brooke for his faithful care of her husband, at which
Mr. Brooke suddenly remembered that Mr. March needed rest, and
seizing Laurie, he precipitately retired. Then the two invalids
were ordered to repose, which they did, by both sitting in one
big chair and talking hard.
Mr. March told how he had longed to surprise them, and how,
when the fine weather came, he had been allowed by his doctor to
take advantage of it, how devoted Brooke had been, and how he was
altogether a most estimable and upright young man. Why Mr. March
paused a minute just there, and after a glance at Meg, who was
violently poking the fire, looked at his wife with an inquiring
lift of the eyebrows, I leave you to imagine. Also why Mrs.
March gently nodded her head and asked, rather abruptly, if he
wouldn't like to have something to eat. Jo saw and understood
the look, and she stalked grimly away to get wine and beef tea,
muttering to herself as she slammed the door, "I hate estimable
young men with brown eyes!"
There never was such a Christmas dinner as they had that day.
The fat turkey was a sight to behold, when Hannah sent him up,
Back to Full Books