Louisa May Alcott
Part 6 out of 11
stuffed, browned, and decorated. So was the plum pudding, which
melted in one's mouth, likewise the jellies, in which Amy reveled
like a fly in a honeypot. Everything turned out well, which was
a mercy, Hannah said, "For my mind was that flustered, Mum, that
it's a merrycle I didn't roast the pudding, and stuff the turkey
with raisins, let alone bilin' of it in a cloth."
Mr. Laurence and his grandson dined with them, also Mr.
Brooke, at whom Jo glowered darkly, to Laurie's infinite amusement.
Two easy chairs stood side by side at the head of the table, in
which sat Beth and her father, feasting modestly on chicken and a
little fruit. They drank healths, told stories, sang songs,
'reminisced', as the old folks say, and had a thoroughly good time.
A sleigh ride had been planned, but the girls would not leave their
father, so the guests departed early, and as twilight gathered, the
happy family sat together round the fire.
"Just a year ago we were groaning over the dismal Christmas we
expected to have. Do you remember?" asked Jo, breaking a short
pause which had followed a long conversation about many things.
"Rather a pleasant year on the whole!" said Meg, smiling at
the fire, and congratulating herself on having treated Mr. Brooke
"I think it's been a pretty hard one," observed Amy, watching
the light shine on her ring with thoughtful eyes.
"I'm glad it's over, because we've got you back," whispered
Beth, who sat on her father's knee.
"Rather a rough road for you to travel, my little pilgrims,
especially the latter part of it. But you have got on bravely,
and I think the burdens are in a fair way to tumble off very soon,"
said Mr. March, looking with fatherly satisfaction at the four
young faces gathered round him.
"How do you know? Did Mother tell you?" asked Jo.
"Not much. Straws show which way the wind blows, and I've
made several discoveries today."
"Oh, tell us what they are!" cried Meg, who sat beside him.
"Here is one." And taking up the hand which lay on the arm
of his chair, he pointed to the roughened forefinger, a burn on
the back, and two or three little hard spots on the palm. "I
remember a time when this hand was white and smooth, and your
first care was to keep it so. It was very pretty then, but to
me it is much prettier now, for in this seeming blemishes I read
a little history. A burnt offering has been made to vanity, this
hardened palm has earned something better than blisters, and I'm
sure the sewing done by these pricked fingers will last a long
time, so much good will went into the stitches. Meg, my dear,
I value the womanly skill which keeps home happy more than white
hands or fashionable accomplishments. I'm proud to shake this
good, industrious little hand, and hope I shall not soon be
asked to give it away."
If Meg had wanted a reward for hours of patient labor, she
received it in the hearty pressure of her father's hand and the
approving smile he gave her.
"What about Jo? Please say something nice, for she has tried
so hard and been so very, very good to me," said Beth in her
He laughed and looked across at the tall girl who sat opposite,
with and unusually mild expression in her face.
"In spite of the curly crop, I don't see the 'son Jo' whom I
left a year ago," said Mr. March. "I see a young lady who pins
her collar straight, laces her boots neatly, and neither whistles,
talks slang, nor lies on the rug as she used to do. Her face is
rather thin and pale just now, with watching and anxiety, but I
like to look at it, for it has grown gentler, and her voice is
lower. She doesn't bounce, but moves quietly, and takes care of
a certain little person in a motherly way which delights me. I
rather miss my wild girl, but if I get a strong, helpful,
tenderhearted woman in her place, I shall feel quite satisfied.
I don't know whether the shearing sobered our black sheep, but I do
know that in all Washington I couldn't find anything beautiful enough
to be bought with the five-and-twenty dollars my good girl sent me."
Jo's keen eyes were rather dim for a minute, and her thin
face grew rosy in the firelight as she received her father's praise,
feeling that she did deserve a portion of it.
"Now, Beth," said Amy, longing for her turn, but ready to wait.
"There's so little of her, I'm afraid to say much, for fear
she will slip away altogether, though she is not so shy as she used
to be," began their father cheerfully. But recollecting how nearly
he had lost her, he held her close, saying tenderly, with her cheek
against his own, "I've got you safe, my Beth, and I'll keep you so,
After a minute's silence, he looked down at Amy, who sat on
the cricket at his feet, and said, with a caress of the shining
hair . . .
"I observed that Amy took drumsticks at dinner, ran errands
for her mother all the afternoon, gave Meg her place tonight, and
has waited on every one with patience and good humor. I also
observe that she does not fret much nor look in the glass, and has
not even mentioned a very pretty ring which she wears, so I
conclude that she has learned to think of other people more and of
herself less, and has decided to try and mold her character as
carefully as she molds her little clay figures. I am glad of
this, for though I should be very proud of a graceful statue made
by her, I shall be infinitely prouder of a lovable daughter with
a talent for making life beautiful to herself and others."
"What are you thinking of, Beth?" asked Jo, when Amy had
thanked her father and told about her ring.
"I read in _Pilgrim's Progress_ today how, after many troubles,
Christian and Hopeful came to a pleasant green meadow where lilies
bloomed all year round, and there they rested happily, as we do
now, before they went on to their journey's end," answered Beth,
adding, as she slipped out of her father's arms and went to the
instrument, "It's singing time now, and I want to be in my old
place. I'll try to sing the song of the shepherd boy which the
Pilgrims heard. I made the music for Father, because he likes
So, sitting at the dear little piano, Beth softly touched the
keys, and in the sweet voice they had never thought to hear again,
sang to her own accompaniment the quaint hymn, which was a
singularly fitting song for her.
He that is down need fear no fall,
He that is low no pride.
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have,
Little be it, or much.
And, Lord! Contentment still I crave,
Because Thou savest such.
Fulness to them a burden is,
That go on pilgrimage.
Here little, and hereafter bliss,
Is best from age to age!
AUNT MARCH SETTLES THE QUESTION
Like bees swarming after their queen, mother and daughters
hovered about Mr. March the next day, neglecting everything to
look at, wait upon, and listen to the new invalid, who was in a
fair way to be killed by kindness. As he sat propped up in a
big chair by Beth's sofa, with the other three close by, and
Hannah popping in her head now and then 'to peek at the dear
man', nothing seemed needed to complete their happiness. But
something was needed, and the elder ones felt it, though none
confessed the fact. Mr. and Mrs. March looked at one another
with an anxious expression, as their eyes followed Meg. Jo
had sudden fits of sobriety, and was seen to shake her fist at
Mr. Brooke's umbrella, which had been left in the hall. Meg
was absent-minded, shy, and silent, started when the bell rang,
and colored when John's name was mentioned. Amy said,
"Everyone seemed waiting for something, and couldn't settle down,
which was queer, since Father was safe at home," and Beth innocently
wondered why their neighbors didn't run over as usual.
Laurie went by in the afternoon, and seeing Meg at the window,
seemed suddenly possessed with a melodramatic fit, for he fell
down on one knee in the snow, beat his breast, tore his hair,
and clasped his hands imploringly, as if begging some boon.
And when Meg told him to behave himself and go away, he wrung
imaginary tears out of his handkerchief, and staggered round the
corner as if in utter despair.
"What does the goose mean?" said Meg, laughing and trying to
"He's showing you how your John will go on by-and-by.
Touching, isn't it?" answered Jo scornfully.
"Don't say my John, it isn't proper or true," but Meg's voice
lingered over the words as if they sounded pleasant to her. "Please
don't plague me, Jo, I've told you I don't care much about him, and
there isn't to be anything said, but we are all to be friendly, and
go on as before."
"We can't, for something has been said, and Laurie's mischief
has spoiled you for me. I see it, and so does Mother. You are not
like your old self a bit, and seem ever so far away from me. I
don't mean to plague you and will bear it like a man, but I do wish
it was all settled. I hate to wait, so if you mean ever to do it,
make haste and have it over quickly," said Jo pettishly.
"I can't say anything till he speaks, and he won't, because
Father said I was too young," began Meg, bending over her work
with a queer little smile, which suggested that she did not quite
agree with her father on that point.
"If he did speak, you wouldn't know what to say, but would
cry or blush, or let him have his own way, instead of giving a
good, decided no."
"I'm not so silly and weak as you think. I know just what
I should say, for I've planned it all, so I needn't be taken
unawares. There's no knowing what may happen, and I wished to
Jo couldn't help smiling at the important air which Meg had
unconsciously assumed and which was as becoming as the pretty
color varying in her cheeks.
"Would you mind telling me what you'd say?" asked Jo more
"Not at all. You are sixteen now, quite old enough to be
my confident, and my experience will be useful to you by-and-by,
perhaps, in your own affairs of this sort."
"Don't mean to have any. It's fun to watch other people
philander, but I should feel like a fool doing it myself," said
Jo, looking alarmed at the thought.
"I think not, if you liked anyone very much, and he liked
you." Meg spoke as if to herself, and glanced out at the lane
where she had often seen lovers walking together in the summer
"I thought you were going to tell your speech to that man,"
said Jo, rudely shortening her sister's little reverie.
"Oh, I should merely say, quite calmly and decidedly, 'Thank
you, Mr. Brooke, you are very kind, but I agree with Father that
I am too young to enter into any engagement at present, so please
say no more, but let us be friends as we were.'"
"Hum, that's stiff and cool enough! I don't believe you'll
ever say it, and I know he won't be satisfied if you do. If he
goes on like the rejected lovers in books, you'll give in, rather
than hurt his feelings."
"No, I won't. I shall tell him I've made up my mind, and
shall walk out of the room with dignity."
Meg rose as she spoke, and was just going to rehearse the
dignified exit, when a step in the hall made her fly into her
seat and begin to sew as fast as if her life depended on finishing
that particular seam in a given time. Jo smothered a laugh
at the sudden change, and when someone gave a modest tap, opened
the door with a grim aspect which was anything but hospitable.
"Good afternoon. I came to get my umbrella, that is, to see
how your father finds himself today," said Mr. Brooke, getting a
trifle confused as his eyes went from one telltale face to the other.
"It's very well, he's in the rack. I'll get him, and tell it
you are here." And having jumbled her father and the umbrella well
together in her reply, Jo slipped out of the room to give Meg a
chance to make her speech and air her dignity. But the instant she
vanished, Meg began to sidle toward the door, murmuring . . .
"Mother will like to see you. Pray sit down, I'll call her."
"Don't go. Are you afraid of me, Margaret?" and Mr. Brooke
looked so hurt that Meg thought she must have done something very
rude. She blushed up to the little curls on her forehead, for he
had never called her Margaret before, and she was surprised to
find how natural and sweet it seemed to hear him say it. Anxious
to appear friendly and at her ease, she put out her hand with a
confiding gesture, and said gratefully . . .
"How can I be afraid when you have been so kind to Father?
I only wish I could thank you for it."
"Shall I tell you how?" asked Mr. Brooke, holding the small
hand fast in both his own, and looking down at Meg with so much
love in the brown eyes that her heart began to flutter, and she
both longed to run away and to stop and listen.
"Oh no, please don't, I'd rather not," she said, trying to
withdraw her hand, and looking frightened in spite of her denial.
"I won't trouble you. I only want to know if you care for
me a little, Meg. I love you so much, dear," added Mr. Brooke
This was the moment for the calm, proper speech, but Meg
didn't make it. She forgot every word of it, hung her head, and
answered, "I don't know," so softly that John had to stoop down
to catch the foolish little reply.
He seemed to think it was worth the trouble, for he smiled
to himself as if quite satisfied, pressed the plump hand
gratefully, and said in his most persuasive tone, "Will you try and
find out? I want to know so much, for I can't go to work with
any heart until I learn whether I am to have my reward in the end
"I'm too young," faltered Meg, wondering why she was so
fluttered, yet rather enjoying it.
"I'll wait, and in the meantime, you could be learning to
like me. Would it be a very hard lesson, dear?"
"Not if I chose to learn it, but. . ."
"Please choose to learn, Meg. I love to teach, and this
is easier than German," broke in John, getting possession of the
other hand, so that she had no way of hiding her face as he bent
to look into it.
His tone was properly beseeching, but stealing a shy look
at him, Meg saw that his eyes were merry as well as tender, and
that he wore the satisfied smile of one who had no doubt of his
success. This nettled her. Annie Moffat's foolish lessons in
coquetry came into her mind, and the love of power, which sleeps
in the bosoms of the best of little women, woke up all of a
sudden and took possession of her. She felt excited and
strange, and not knowing what else to do, followed a
capricious impulse, and, withdrawing her hands, said petulantly,
"I don't choose. Please go away and let me be!"
Poor Mr. Brooke looked as if his lovely castle in the air
was tumbling about his ears, for he had never seen Meg in such
a mood before, and it rather bewildered him.
"Do you really mean that?" he asked anxiously, following
her as she walked away.
"Yes, I do. I don't want to be worried about such things.
Father says I needn't, it's too soon and I'd rather not."
"Mayn't I hope you'll change your mind by-and-by? I'll
wait and say nothing till you have had more time. Don't play
with me, Meg. I didn't think that of you."
"Don't think of me at all. I'd rather you wouldn't," said
Meg, taking a naughty satisfaction in trying her lover's patience
and her own power.
He was grave and pale now, and looked decidedly more like
the novel heroes whom she admired, but he neither slapped his
forehead nor tramped about the room as they did. He just stood
looking at her so wistfully, so tenderly, that she found her
heart relenting in spite of herself. What would have happened
next I cannot say, if Aunt March had not come hobbling in at
this interesting minute.
The old lady couldn't resist her longing to see her nephew,
for she had met Laurie as she took her airing, and hearing of
Mr. March's arrival, drove straight out to see him. The family
were all busy in the back part of the house, and she had made
her way quietly in, hoping to surprise them. She did surprise
two of them so much that Meg started as if she had seen a
ghost, and Mr. Brooke vanished into the study.
"Bless me, what's all this?" cried the old lady with a rap
of her cane as she glanced from the pale young gentleman to the
scarlet young lady.
"It's Father's friend. I'm so surprised to see you!" stammered Meg,
feeling that she was in for a lecture now.
"That's evident," returned Aunt March, sitting down. "But
what is Father's friend saying to make you look like a peony?
There's mischief going on, and I insist upon knowing what it
is," with another rap.
"We were only talking. Mr. Brooke came for his umbrella,"
began Meg, wishing that Mr. Brooke and the umbrella were safely
out of the house.
"Brooke? That boy's tutor? Ah! I understand now. I know
all about it. Jo blundered into a wrong message in one of your
Father's letters, and I made her tell me. You haven't gone and
accepted him, child?" cried Aunt March, looking scandalized.
"Hush! He'll hear. Shan't I call Mother?" said Meg, much
"Not yet. I've something to say to you, and I must free my
mind at once. Tell me, do you mean to marry this Cook? If you
do, not one penny of my money ever goes to you. Remember that,
and be a sensible girl," said the old lady impressively.
Now Aunt March possessed in perfection the art of rousing
the spirit of opposition in the gentlest people, and enjoyed
doing it. The best of us have a spice of perversity in us,
especially when we are young and in love. If Aunt March had
begged Meg to accept John Brooke, she would probably have
declared she couldn't think of it, but as she was preemptorily
ordered not to like him, she immediately made up her mind that
she would. Inclination as well as perversity made the decision
easy, and being already much excited, Meg opposed the old lady
with unusual spirit.
"I shall marry whom I please, Aunt March, and you can
leave your money to anyone you like," she said, nodding her
head with a resolute air.
"Highty-tighty! Is that the way you take my advice, Miss?
You'll be sorry for it by-and-by, when you've tried love in a
cottage and found it a failure."
"It can't be a worse one than some people find in big
houses," retorted Meg.
Aunt March put on her glasses and took a look at the girl,
for she did not know her in this new mood. Meg hardly knew
herself, she felt so brave and independent, so glad to defend
John and assert her right to love him, if she liked. Aunt March
saw that she had begun wrong, and after a little pause, made a
fresh start, saying as mildly as she could, "Now, Meg, my dear,
be reasonable and take my advice. I mean it kindly, and don't
want you to spoil your whole life by making a mistake at the
beginning. You ought to marry well and help your family. It's
your duty to make a rich match and it ought to be impressed
"Father and Mother don't think so. They like John though
he is poor."
"Your parents, my dear, have no more worldly wisdom than a
pair of babies."
"I'm glad of it," cried Meg stoutly.
Aunt March took no notice, but went on with her lecture. "This
Rook is poor and hasn't got any rich relations, has he?"
"No, but he has many warm friends."
"You can't live on friends, try it and see how cool they'll
grow. He hasn't any business, has he?"
"Not yet. Mr. Laurence is going to help him."
"That won't last long. James Laurence is a crotchety old
fellow and not to be depended on. So you intend to marry a man
without money, position, or business, and go on working harder
than you do now, when you might be comfortable all your days
by minding me and doing better? I thought you had more sense,
"I couldn't do better if I waited half my life! John is
good and wise, he's got heaps of talent, he's willing to work
and sure to get on, he's so energetic and brave. Everyone likes
and respects him, and I'm proud to think he cares for me, though
I'm so poor and young and silly," said Meg, looking prettier than
ever in her earnestness.
"He knows you have got rich relations, child. That's the
secret of his liking, I suspect."
"Aunt March, how dare you say such a thing? John is above
such meanness, and I won't listen to you a minute if you talk so,"
cried Meg indignantly, forgetting everything but the injustice of
the old lady's suspicions. "My John wouldn't marry for money, any
more than I would. We are willing to work and we mean to wait. I'm
not afraid of being poor, for I've been happy so far, and I know I
shall be with him because he loves me, and I . . ."
Meg stopped there, remembering all of a sudden that she hadn't
made up her mind, that she had told 'her John' to go away, and that
he might be overhearing her inconsistent remarks.
Aunt March was very angry, for she had set her heart on having
her pretty niece make a fine match, and something in the girl's
happy young face made the lonely old woman feel both sad and sour.
"Well, I wash my hands of the whole affair! You are a willful
child, and you've lost more than you know by this piece of folly.
No, I won't stop. I'm disappointed in you, and haven't spirits to
see your father now. Don't expect anything from me when you are
married. Your Mr. Brooke's friends must take care of you. I'm done
with you forever."
And slamming the door in Meg's face, Aunt March drove off in
high dudgeon. She seemed to take all the girl's courage with her,
for when left alone, Meg stood for a moment, undecided whether to
laugh or cry. Before she could make up her mind, she was taken
possession of by Mr. Brooke, who said all in one breath, "I couldn't
help hearing, Meg. Thank you for defending me, and Aunt March for
proving that you do care for me a little bit."
"I didn't know how much till she abused you," began Meg.
"And I needn't go away, but may stay and be happy, may I, dear?"
Here was another fine chance to make the crushing speech
and the stately exit, but Meg never thought of doing either,
and disgraced herself forever in Jo's eyes by meekly whispering,
"Yes, John," and hiding her face on Mr. Brooke's waistcoat.
Fifteen minutes after Aunt March's departure, Jo came softly
downstairs, paused an instant at the parlor door, and hearing no
sound within, nodded and smiled with a satisfied expression, saying
to herself, "She has seen him away as we planned, and that affair
is settled. I'll go and hear the fun, and have a good laugh over it."
But poor Jo never got her laugh, for she was transfixed upon
the threshold by a spectacle which held her there, staring with
her mouth nearly as wide open as her eyes. Going in to exult over
a fallen enemy and to praise a strong-minded sister for the
banishment of an objectionable lover, it certainly was a shock
to behold the aforesaid enemy serenely sitting on the sofa, with the
strongminded sister enthroned upon his knee and wearing an expression
of the most abject submission. Jo gave a sort of gasp, as if a cold
shower bath had suddenly fallen upon her, for such an unexpected
turning of the tables actually took her breath away. At the odd
sound the lovers turned and saw her. Meg jumped up, looking both
proud and shy, but 'that man', as Jo called him, actually laughed
and said coolly, as he kissed the astonished newcomer, "Sister Jo,
That was adding insult to injury, it was altogether too much,
and making some wild demonstration with her hands, Jo vanished
without a word. Rushing upstairs, she startled the invalids by
exclaiming tragically as she burst into the room, "Oh, do somebody
go down quick! John Brooke is acting dreadfully, and Meg likes it!"
Mr. and Mrs. March left the room with speed, and casting herself
upon the bed, Jo cried and scolded tempestuously as she told the awful
news to Beth and Amy. The little girls, however, considered it a
most agreeable and interesting event, and Jo got little comfort from
them, so she went up to her refuge in the garret, and confided her
troubles to the rats.
Nobody ever knew what went on in the parlor that afternoon, but
a great deal of talking was done, and quiet Mr. Brooke astonished his
friends by the eloquence and spirit with which he pleaded his suit,
told his plans, and persuaded them to arrange everything just as he
The tea bell rang before he had finished describing the paradise
which he meant to earn for Meg, and he proudly took her in to supper,
both looking so happy that Jo hadn't the heart to be jealous or dismal.
Amy was very much impressed by John's devotion and Meg's dignity, Beth
beamed at them from a distance, while Mr. and Mrs. March surveyed the
young couple with such tender satisfaction that it was perfectly
evident Aunt March was right in calling them as 'unworldly as a pair
of babies'. No one ate much, but everyone looked very happy, and the
old room seemed to brighten up amazingly when the first romance of
the family began there.
"You can't say nothing pleasant ever happens now, can you, Meg?"
said Amy, trying to decide how she would group the lovers in a sketch
she was planning to make.
"No, I'm sure I can't. How much has happened since I said that!
It seems a year ago," answered Meg, who was in a blissful dream
lifted far above such common things as bread and butter.
"The joys come close upon the sorrows this time, and I rather
think the changes have begun," said Mrs. March. "In most families
there comes, now and then, a year full of events. This has been such
a one, but it ends well, after all."
"Hope the next will end better," muttered Jo, who found it very
hard to see Meg absorbed in a stranger before her face, for Jo loved
a few persons very dearly and dreaded to have their affection lost
or lessened in any way.
"I hope the third year from this will end better. I mean it
shall, if I live to work out my plans," said Mr. Brooke, smiling at
Meg, as if everything had become possible to him now.
"Doesn't it seem very long to wait?" asked Amy, who was in a
hurry for the wedding.
"I've got so much to learn before I shall be ready, it seems
a short time to me," answered Meg, with a sweet gravity in her face
never seen there before.
"You have only to wait, I am to do the work," said John beginning
his labors by picking up Meg's napkin, with an expression which
caused Jo to shake her head, and then say to herself with an air
of relief as the front door banged, "Here comes Laurie. Now we
shall have some sensible conversation."
But Jo was mistaken, for Laurie came prancing in, overflowing
with good spirits, bearing a great bridal-looking bouquet for 'Mrs.
John Brooke', and evidently laboring under the delusion that the
whole affair had been brought about by his excellent management.
"I knew Brooke would have it all his own way, he always does,
for when he makes up his mind to accomplish anything, it's done
though the sky falls," said Laurie, when he had presented his
offering and his congratulations.
"Much obliged for that recommendation. I take it as a good
omen for the future and invite you to my wedding on the spot,"
answered Mr. Brooke, who felt at peace with all mankind, even his
"I'll come if I'm at the ends of the earth, for the sight of
Jo's face alone on that occasion would be worth a long journey.
You don't look festive, ma'am, what's the matter?" asked Laurie,
following her into a corner of the parlor, whither all had adjourned
to greet Mr. Laurence.
"I don't approve of the match, but I've made up my mind to bear
it, and shall not say a word against it," said Jo solemnly. "You
can't know how hard it is for me to give up Meg," she continued
with a little quiver in her voice.
"You don't give her up. You only go halves," said Laurie
"It can never be the same again. I've lost my dearest friend,"
"You've got me, anyhow. I'm not good for much, I know, but
I'll stand by you, Jo, all the days of my life. Upon my word I will!"
and Laurie meant what he said.
"I know you will, and I'm ever so much obliged. You are always
a great comfort to me, Teddy," returned Jo, gratefully shaking hands.
"Well, now, don't be dismal, there's a good fellow. It's all
right you see. Meg is happy, Brooke will fly round and get settled
immediately, Grandpa will attend to him, and it will be very jolly
to see Meg in her own little house. We'll have capital times after
she is gone, for I shall be through college before long, and then
we'll go abroad on some nice trip or other. Wouldn't that console
"I rather think it would, but there's no knowing what may happen
in three years," said Jo thoughtfully.
"That's true. Don't you wish you could take a look forward and
see where we shall all be then? I do," returned Laurie.
"I think not, for I might see something sad, and everyone looks
so happy now, I don't believe they could be much improved." And Jo's
eyes went slowly round the room, brightening as they looked, for the
prospect was a pleasant one.
Father and Mother sat together, quietly reliving the first
chapter of the romance which for them began some twenty years ago.
Amy was drawing the lovers, who sat apart in a beautiful world of
their own, the light of which touched their faces with a grace the
little artist could not copy. Beth lay on her sofa, talking cheerily
with her old friend, who held her little hand as if he felt that it
possessed the power to lead him along the peaceful way she walked.
Jo lounged in her favorite low seat, with the grave quiet look which
best became her, and Laurie, leaning on the back of her chair, his
chin on a level with her curly head, smiled with his friendliest
aspect, and nodded at her in the long glass which reflected them both.
So the curtain falls upon Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Whether it
ever rises again, depends upon the reception given the first act of
the domestic drama called _Little Women_.
LITTLE WOMEN PART 2
In order that we may start afresh and go to Meg's wedding . . .
In order that we may start afresh and go to Meg's wedding
with free minds, it will be well to begin with a little gossip
about the Marches. And here let me premise that if any of the
elders think there is too much 'lovering' in the story, as I fear
they may (I'm not afraid the young folks will make that objection),
I can only say with Mrs. March, "What can you expect when I have
four gay girls in the house, and a dashing young neighbor over the
The three years that have passed have brought but few changes
to the quiet family. The war is over, and Mr. March safely at
home, busy with his books and the small parish which found in him
a minister by nature as by grace, a quiet, studious man, rich in
the wisdom that is better than learning, the charity which calls
all mankind 'brother', the piety that blossoms into character,
making it august and lovely.
These attributes, in spite of poverty and the strict integrity
which shut him out from the more worldly successes, attracted to
him many admirable persons, as naturally as sweet herbs draw bees,
and as naturally he gave them the honey into which fifty years of
hard experience had distilled no bitter drop. Earnest young men
found the gray-headed scholar as young at heart as they; thoughtful
or troubled women instinctively brought their doubts to him, sure
of finding the gentlest sympathy, the wisest counsel. Sinners told
their sins to the pure-hearted old man and were both rebuked and
saved. Gifted men found a companion in him. Ambitious men caught
glimpses of nobler ambitions than their own, and even worldlings
confessed that his beliefs were beautiful and true, although 'they
To outsiders the five energetic women seemed to rule the house,
and so they did in many things, but the quiet scholar, sitting among
his books, was still the head of the family, the household conscience,
anchor, and comforter, for to him the busy, anxious women always
turned in troublous times, finding him, in the truest sense of those
sacred words, husband and father.
The girls gave their hearts into their mother's keeping, their
souls into their father's, and to both parents, who lived and labored
so faithfully for them, they gave a love that grew with their growth
and bound them tenderly together by the sweetest tie which blesses
life and outlives death.
Mrs. March is as brisk and cheery, though rather grayer, than
when we saw her last, and just now so absorbed in Meg's affairs that
the hospitals and homes still full of wounded 'boys' and soldiers'
widows, decidedly miss the motherly missionary's visits.
John Brooke did his duty manfully for a year, got wounded, was
sent home, and not allowed to return. He received no stars or bars,
but he deserved them, for he cheerfully risked all he had, and life
and love are very precious when both are in full bloom. Perfectly
resigned to his discharge, he devoted himself to getting well,
preparing for business, and earning a home for Meg. With the good
sense and sturdy independence that characterized him, he refused
Mr. Laurence's more generous offers, and accepted the place of
bookkeeper, feeling better satisfied to begin with an honestly earned
salary than by running any risks with borrowed money.
Meg had spent the time in working as well as waiting, growing
womanly in character, wise in housewifely arts, and prettier than
ever, for love is a great beautifier. She had her girlish ambitions
and hopes, and felt some disappointment at the humble way in which
the new life must begin. Ned Moffat had just married Sallie Gardiner,
and Meg couldn't help contrasting their fine house and carriage,
many gifts, and splendid outfit with her own, and secretly wishing
she could have the same. But somehow envy and discontent soon
vanished when she thought of all the patient love and labor John had
put into the little home awaiting her, and when they sat together in
the twilight, talking over their small plans, the future always grew
so beautiful and bright that she forgot Sallie's splendor and felt
herself the richest, happiest girl in Christendom.
Jo never went back to Aunt March, for the old lady took such
a fancy to Amy that she bribed her with the offer of drawing lessons
from one of the best teachers going, and for the sake of this
advantage, Amy would have served a far harder mistress. So she gave
her mornings to duty, her afternoons to pleasure, and prospered finely.
Jo meantime devoted herself to literature and Beth, who remained
delicate long after the fever was a thing of the past. Not an
invalid exactly, but never again the rosy, healthy creature she had
been, yet always hopeful, happy, and serene, and busy with the quiet
duties she loved, everyone's friend, and an angel in the house, long
before those who loved her most had learned to know it.
As long as _The Spread Eagle_ paid her a dollar a column for her
'rubbish', as she called it, Jo felt herself a woman of means, and
spun her little romances diligently. But great plans fermented in
her busy brain and ambitious mind, and the old tin kitchen in the
garret held a slowly increasing pile of blotted manuscript, which
was one day to place the name of March upon the roll of fame.
Laurie, having dutifully gone to college to please his grandfather,
was now getting through it in the easiest possible manner
to please himself. A universal favorite, thanks to money, manners,
much talent, and the kindest heart that ever got its owner into
scrapes by trying to get other people out of them, he stood in
great danger of being spoiled, and probably would have been, like
many another promising boy, if he had not possessed a talisman
against evil in the memory of the kind old man who was bound up in
his success, the motherly friend who watched over him as if he were
her son, and last, but not least by any means, the knowledge that
four innocent girls loved, admired, and believed in him with all
Being only 'a glorious human boy', of course he frolicked and
flirted, grew dandified, aquatic, sentimental, or gymnastic, as
college fashions ordained, hazed and was hazed, talked slang, and
more than once came perilously near suspension and expulsion. But
as high spirits and the love of fun were the causes of these pranks,
he always managed to save himself by frank confession, honorable
atonement, or the irresistible power of persuasion which he possessed
in perfection. In fact, he rather prided himself on his narrow
escapes, and liked to thrill the girls with graphic accounts of his
triumphs over wrathful tutors, dignified professors, and vanquished
enemies. The 'men of my class', were heroes in the eyes of the girls,
who never wearied of the exploits of 'our fellows', and were frequently
allowed to bask in the smiles of these great creatures, when Laurie
brought them home with him.
Amy especially enjoyed this high honor, and became quite a belle
among them, for her ladyship early felt and learned to use the gift
of fascination with which she was endowed. Meg was too much absorbed
in her private and particular John to care for any other lords of
creation, and Beth too shy to do more than peep at them and wonder
how Amy dared to order them about so, but Jo felt quite in her own
element, and found it very difficult to refrain from imitating the
gentlemanly attitudes, phrases, and feats, which seemed more natural
to her than the decorums prescribed for young ladies. They all liked
Jo immensely, but never fell in love with her, though very few
escaped without paying the tribute of a sentimental sigh or two at
Amy's shrine. And speaking of sentiment brings us very naturally to
That was the name of the little brown house Mr. Brooke had prepared
for Meg's first home. Laurie had christened it, saying it was
highly appropriate to the gentle lovers who 'went on together like a
pair of turtledoves, with first a bill and then a coo'. It was a
tiny house, with a little garden behind and a lawn about as big as a
pocket handkerchief in the front. Here Meg meant to have a fountain,
shrubbery, and a profusion of lovely flowers, though just at present
the fountain was represented by a weather-beaten urn, very like a
dilapidated slopbowl, the shrubbery consisted of several young larches,
undecided whether to live or die, and the profusion of flowers was
merely hinted by regiments of sticks to show where seeds were planted.
But inside, it was altogether charming, and the happy bride saw no
fault from garret to cellar. To be sure, the hall was so narrow it
was fortunate that they had no piano, for one never could have been
got in whole, the dining room was so small that six people were a
tight fit, and the kitchen stairs seemed built for the express
purpose of precipitating both servants and china pell-mell into the
coalbin. But once get used to these slight blemishes and nothing
could be more complete, for good sense and good taste had presided
over the furnishing, and the result was highly satisfactory. There
were no marble-topped tables, long mirrors, or lace curtains in the
little parlor, but simple furniture, plenty of books, a fine picture
or two, a stand of flowers in the bay window, and, scattered all
about, the pretty gifts which came from friendly hands and were the
fairer for the loving messages they brought.
I don't think the Parian Psyche Laurie gave lost any of its
beauty because John put up the bracket it stood upon, that any
upholsterer could have draped the plain muslin curtains more
gracefully than Amy's artistic hand, or that any store-room was ever
better provided with good wishes, merry words, and happy hopes
than that in which Jo and her mother put away Meg's few boxes,
barrels, and bundles, and I am morally certain that the spandy new
kitchen never could have looked so cozy and neat if Hannah had not
arranged every pot and pan a dozen times over, and laid the fire
all ready for lighting the minute 'Mis. Brooke came home'. I also
doubt if any young matron ever began life with so rich a supply of
dusters, holders, and piece bags, for Beth made enough to last till
the silver wedding came round, and invented three different kinds
of dishcloths for the express service of the bridal china.
People who hire all these things done for them never know
what they lose, for the homeliest tasks get beautified if loving
hands do them, and Meg found so many proofs of this that everything
in her small nest, from the kitchen roller to the silver vase on
her parlor table, was eloquent of home love and tender forethought.
What happy times they had planning together, what solemn shopping
excursions, what funny mistakes they made, and what shouts of
laughter arose over Laurie's ridiculous bargains. In his love of
jokes, this young gentleman, though nearly through college, was a
much of a boy as ever. His last whim had been to bring with him on
his weekly visits some new, useful, and ingenious article for the
young housekeeper. Now a bag of remarkable clothespins, next, a
wonderful nutmeg grater which fell to pieces at the first trial, a
knife cleaner that spoiled all the knives, or a sweeper that picked
the nap neatly off the carpet and left the dirt, labor-saving soap
that took the skin off one's hands, infallible cements which stuck
firmly to nothing but the fingers of the deluded buyer, and every
kind of tinware, from a toy savings bank for odd pennies, to a
wonderful boiler which would wash articles in its own steam with
every prospect of exploding in the process.
In vain Meg begged him to stop. John laughed at him, and Jo called
him 'Mr. Toodles'. He was possessed with a mania for patronizing
Yankee ingenuity, and seeing his friends fitly furnished forth.
So each week beheld some fresh absurdity.
Everything was done at last, even to Amy's arranging different
colored soaps to match the different colored rooms, and Beth's
setting the table for the first meal.
"Are you satisfied? Does it seem like home, and do you feel
as if you should be happy here?" asked Mrs. March, as she and her
daughter went through the new kingdom arm in arm, for just then
they seemed to cling together more tenderly than ever.
"Yes, Mother, perfectly satisfied, thanks to you all, and so
happy that I can't talk about it," with a look that was far better
"If she only had a servant or two it would be all right," said Amy,
coming out of the parlor, where she had been trying to decide whether
the bronze Mercury looked best on the whatnot or the mantlepiece.
"Mother and I have talked that over, and I have made up my
mind to try her way first. There will be so little to do that with
Lotty to run my errands and help me here and there, I shall only
have enough work to keep me from getting lazy or homesick," answered
"Sallie Moffat has four," began Amy.
"If Meg had four, the house wouldn't hold them, and master and
missis would have to camp in the garden," broke in Jo, who, enveloped
in a big blue pinafore, was giving the last polish to the door handles.
"Sallie isn't a poor man's wife, and many maids are in keeping
with her fine establishment. Meg and John begin humbly, but I have
a feeling that there will be quite as much happiness in the little
house as in the big one. It's a great mistake for young girls like
Meg to leave themselves nothing to do but dress, give orders, and
gossip. When I was first married, I used to long for my new clothes
to wear out or get torn, so that I might have the pleasure of mending
them, for I got heartily sick of doing fancywork and tending my
"Why didn't you go into the kitchen and make messes, as Sallie
says she does to amuse herself, though they never turn out well and
the servants laugh at her," said Meg.
"I did after a while, not to 'mess' but to learn of Hannah how
things should be done, that my servants need not laugh at me. It
was play then, but there came a time when I was truly grateful that
I not only possessed the will but the power to cook wholesome food
for my little girls, and help myself when I could no longer afford
to hire help. You begin at the other end, Meg, dear, but the lessons
you learn now will be of use to you by-and-by when John is a richer
man, for the mistress of a house, however splendid, should know how
work ought to be done, if she wishes to be well and honestly served."
"Yes, Mother, I'm sure of that," said Meg, listening respectfully
to the little lecture, for the best of women will hold forth
upon the all absorbing subject of house keeping. "Do you know I
like this room most of all in my baby house," added Meg, a minute
after, as they went upstairs and she looked into her well-stored
Beth was there, laying the snowy piles smoothly on the shelves
and exulting over the goodly array. All three laughed as Meg spoke,
for that linen closet was a joke. You see, having said that if Meg
married 'that Brooke' she shouldn't have a cent of her money, Aunt
March was rather in a quandary when time had appeased her wrath and
made her repent her vow. She never broke her word, and was much
exercised in her mind how to get round it, and at last devised a
plan whereby she could satisfy herself. Mrs. Carrol, Florence's
mamma, was ordered to buy, have made, and marked a generous supply
of house and table linen, and send it as her present, all of which
was faithfully done, but the secret leaked out, and was greatly
enjoyed by the family, for Aunt March tried to look utterly
unconscious, and insisted that she could give nothing but the
old-fashioned pearls long promised to the first bride.
"That's a housewifely taste which I am glad to see. I had a
young friend who set up housekeeping with six sheets, but she had
finger bowls for company and that satisfied her," said Mrs. March,
patting the damask tablecloths, with a truly feminine appreciation
of their fineness.
"I haven't a single finger bowl, but this is a setout that will
last me all my days, Hannah says." And Meg looked quite contented,
as well she might.
A tall, broad-shouldered young fellow, with a cropped head, a
felt basin of a hat, and a flyaway coat, came tramping down the
road at a great pace, walked over the low fence without stopping to
open the gate, straight up to Mrs. March, with both hands out and
a hearty . . .
"Here I am, Mother! Yes, it's all right."
The last words were in answer to the look the elder lady gave
him, a kindly questioning look which the handsome eyes met so
frankly that the little ceremony closed, as usual, with a motherly
"For Mrs. John Brooke, with the maker's congratulations and
compliments. Bless you, Beth! What a refreshing spectacle you
are, Jo. Amy, you are getting altogether too handsome for a
As Laurie spoke, he delivered a brown paper parcel to Meg,
pulled Beth's hair ribbon, stared at Jo's big pinafore, and fell
into an attitude of mock rapture before Amy, then shook hands all
round, and everyone began to talk.
"Where is John?" asked Meg anxiously.
"Stopped to get the license for tomorrow, ma'am."
"Which side won the last match, Teddy?" inquired Jo, who persisted
in feeling an interest in manly sports despite her nineteen years.
"Ours, of course. Wish you'd been there to see."
"How is the lovely Miss Randal?" asked Amy with a significant smile.
"More cruel than ever. Don't you see how I'm pining away?" and
Laurie gave his broad chest a sounding slap and heaved a
"What's the last joke? Undo the bundle and see, Meg," said
Beth, eying the knobby parcel with curiosity.
"It's a useful thing to have in the house in case of fire
or thieves," observed Laurie, as a watchman's rattle appeared,
amid the laughter of the girls.
"Any time when John is away and you get frightened, Mrs.
Meg, just swing that out of the front window, and it will rouse
the neighborhood in a jiffy. Nice thing, isn't it?" and Laurie
gave them a sample of its powers that made them cover up their ears.
"There's gratitude for you! And speaking of gratitude reminds
me to mention that you may thank Hannah for saving your wedding cake
from destruction. I saw it going into your house as I came by, and
if she hadn't defended it manfully I'd have had a pick at it, for it
looked like a remarkably plummy one."
"I wonder if you will ever grow up, Laurie," said Meg in a
"I'm doing my best, ma'am, but can't get much higher, I'm afraid,
as six feet is about all men can do in these degenerate days,"
responded the young gentleman, whose head was about level with the
"I suppose it would be profanation to eat anything in this
spick-and-span bower, so as I'm tremendously hungry,
I propose an adjournment," he added presently.
"Mother and I are going to wait for John. There are some last
things to settle," said Meg, bustling away.
"Beth and I are going over to Kitty Bryant's to get more flowers
for tomorrow," added Amy, tying a picturesque hat over her picturesque
curls, and enjoying the effect as much as anybody.
"Come, Jo, don't desert a fellow. I'm in such a state of exhaustion
I can't get home without help. Don't take off your apron,
whatever you do, it's peculiarly becoming," said Laurie, as Jo
bestowed his especial aversion in her capacious pocket and offered
her arm to support his feeble steps.
"Now, Teddy, I want to talk seriously to you about tomorrow,"
began Jo, as they strolled away together. "You must promise to
behave well, and not cut up any pranks, and spoil our plans."
"Not a prank."
"And don't say funny things when we ought to be sober."
"I never do. You are the one for that."
"And I implore you not to look at me during the ceremony. I
shall certainly laugh if you do."
"You won't see me, you'll be crying so hard that the thick fog
round you will obscure the prospect."
"I never cry unless for some great affliction."
"Such as fellows going to college, hey?" cut in Laurie, with
"Don't be a peacock. I only moaned a trifle to keep the girls
"Exactly. I say, Jo, how is Grandpa this week? Pretty amiable?"
"Very. Why, have you got into a scrape and want to know how
he'll take it?" asked Jo rather sharply.
"Now, Jo, do you think I'd look your mother in the face and say
'All right', if it wasn't?" and Laurie stopped short, with an
"No, I don't."
"Then don't go and be suspicious. I only want some money," said
Laurie, walking on again, appeased by her hearty tone.
"You spend a great deal, Teddy."
"Bless you, I don't spend it, it spends itself somehow, and is
gone before I know it."
"You are so generous and kind-hearted that you let people borrow,
and can't say 'No' to anyone. We heard about Henshaw and all you did
for him. If you always spent money in that way, no one would blame
you," said Jo warmly.
"Oh, he made a mountain out of a molehill. You wouldn't have me
let that fine fellow work himself to death just for want of a little
help, when he is worth a dozen of us lazy chaps, would you?"
"Of course not, but I don't see the use of your having seventeen
waistcoats, endless neckties, and a new hat every time you come home.
I thought you'd got over the dandy period, but every now and then it
breaks out in a new spot. Just now it's the fashion to be hideous,
to make your head look like a scrubbing brush, wear a strait jacket,
orange gloves, and clumping square-toed boots. If it was cheap
ugliness, I'd say nothing, but it costs as much as the other, and I
don't get any satisfaction out of it."
Laurie threw back his head, and laughed so heartily at this
attack, that the felt hat fell off, and Jo walked on it, which
insult only afforded him an opportunity for expatiating on the
advantages of a rough-and-ready costume, as he folded up the
maltreated hat, and stuffed it into his pocket.
"Don't lecture any more, there's a good soul! I have enough
all through the week, and like to enjoy myself when I come home.
I'll get myself up regardless of expense tomorrow and be a
satisfaction to my friends."
"I'll leave you in peace if you'll only let your hair grow.
I'm not aristocratic, but I do object to being seen with a person
who looks like a young prize fighter," observed Jo severely.
"This unassuming style promotes study, that's why we adopt it,"
returned Laurie, who certainly could not be accused of vanity, having
voluntarily sacrificed a handsome curly crop to the demand for
"By the way, Jo, I think that little Parker is really getting
desperate about Amy. He talks of her constantly, writes poetry, and
moons about in a most suspicious manner. He'd better nip his little
passion in the bud, hadn't he?" added Laurie, in a confidential,
elder brotherly tone, after a minute's silence.
"Of course he had. We don't want any more marrying in this
family for years to come. Mercy on us, what are the children
thinking of?" and Jo looked as much scandalized as if Amy and little
Parker were not yet in their teens.
"It's a fast age, and I don't know what we are coming to, ma'am.
You are a mere infant, but you'll go next, Jo, and we'll be left
lamenting," said Laurie, shaking his head over the degeneracy of the
"Don't be alarmed. I'm not one of the agreeable sort. Nobody
will want me, and it's a mercy, for there should always be one old
maid in a family."
"You won't give anyone a chance," said Laurie, with a sidelong
glance and a little more color than before in his sunburned face.
"You won't show the soft side of your character, and if a fellow
gets a peep at it by accident and can't help showing that he likes
it, you treat him as Mrs. Gummidge did her sweetheart, throw cold
water over him, and get so thorny no one dares touch or look at you."
"I don't like that sort of thing. I'm too busy to be worried
with nonsense, and I think it's dreadful to break up families so.
Now don't say any more about it. Meg's wedding has turned all our
heads, and we talk of nothing but lovers and such absurdities. I
don't wish to get cross, so let's change the subject;" and Jo
looked quite ready to fling cold water on the slightest provocation.
Whatever his feelings might have been, Laurie found a vent for
them in a long low whistle and the fearful prediction as they parted
at the gate, "Mark my words, Jo, you'll go next."
THE FIRST WEDDING
The June roses over the porch were awake bright and early on that
morning, rejoicing with all their hearts in the cloudless sunshine,
like friendly little neighbors, as they were. Quite flushed with
excitement were their ruddy faces, as they swung in the wind,
whispering to one another what they had seen, for some peeped in at
the dining room windows where the feast was spread, some climbed up
to nod and smile at the sisters as they dressed the bride, others
waved a welcome to those who came and went on various errands in
garden, porch, and hall, and all, from the rosiest full-blown flower
to the palest baby bud, offered their tribute of beauty and
fragrance to the gentle mistress who had loved and tended them so
Meg looked very like a rose herself, for all that was best and
sweetest in heart and soul seemed to bloom into her face that day,
making it fair and tender, with a charm more beautiful than beauty.
Neither silk, lace, nor orange flowers would she have. "I don't
want a fashionable wedding, but only those about me whom I love,
and to them I wish to look and be my familiar self."
So she made her wedding gown herself, sewing into it the tender
hopes and innocent romances of a girlish heart. Her sisters braided
up her pretty hair, and the only ornaments she wore were the lilies
of the valley, which 'her John' liked best of all the flowers that
"You do look just like our own dear Meg, only so very sweet
and lovely that I should hug you if it wouldn't crumple your dress,"
cried Amy, surveying her with delight when all was done.
"Then I am satisfied. But please hug and kiss me, everyone,
and don't mind my dress. I want a great many crumples of this
sort put into it today," and Meg opened her arms to her sisters,
who clung about her with April faces for a minute, feeling that
the new love had not changed the old.
"Now I'm going to tie John's cravat for him, and then to stay
a few minutes with Father quietly in the study," and Meg ran
down to perform these little ceremonies, and then to follow her
mother wherever she went, conscious that in spite of the smiles
on the motherly face, there was a secret sorrow hid in the motherly
heart at the flight of the first bird from the nest.
As the younger girls stand together, giving the last touches
to their simple toilet, it may be a good time to tell of a few
changes which three years have wrought in their appearance, for
all are looking their best just now.
Jo's angles are much softened, she has learned to carry herself
with ease, if not grace. The curly crop has lengthened into
a thick coil, more becoming to the small head atop of the tall
figure. There is a fresh color in her brown cheeks, a soft shine
in her eyes, and only gentle words fall from her sharp tongue today.
Beth has grown slender, pale, and more quiet than ever. The
beautiful, kind eyes are larger, and in them lies an expression
that saddens one, although it is not sad itself. It is the shadow
of pain which touches the young face with such pathetic patience,
but Beth seldom complains and always speaks hopefully of 'being
Amy is with truth considered 'the flower of the family', for
at sixteen she has the air and bearing of a full-grown woman, not
beautiful, but possessed of that indescribable charm called grace.
One saw it in the lines of her figure, the make and motion of her
hands, the flow of her dress, the droop of her hair, unconscious
yet harmonious, and as attractive to many as beauty itself. Amy's
nose still afflicted her, for it never would grow Grecian, so did
her mouth, being too wide, and having a decided chin. These offending
features gave character to her whole face, but she never could see it,
and consoled herself with her wonderfully fair complexion,
keen blue eyes, and curls more golden and abundant than ever.
All three wore suits of thin silver gray (their best gowns for
the summer), with blush roses in hair and bosom, and all three
looked just what they were, fresh-faced, happy-hearted girls, pausing
a moment in their busy lives to read with wistful eyes the sweetest
chapter in the romance of womanhood.
There were to be no ceremonious performances, everything was to be
as natural and homelike as possible, so when Aunt March arrived, she
was scandalized to see the bride come running to welcome and lead
her in, to find the bridegroom fastening up a garland that had
fallen down, and to catch a glimpse of the paternal minister
marching upstairs with a grave countenance and a wine bottle under
"Upon my word, here's a state of things!" cried the old lady,
taking the seat of honor prepared for her, and settling the folds
of her lavender moire with a great rustle. "You oughtn't to be
seen till the last minute, child."
"I'm not a show, Aunty, and no one is coming to stare at me,
to criticize my dress, or count the cost of my luncheon. I'm too
happy to care what anyone says or thinks, and I'm going to have
my little wedding just as I like it. John, dear, here's your
hammer." And away went Meg to help 'that man' in his highly
Mr. Brooke didn't even say, "Thank you," but as he stooped
for the unromantic tool, he kissed his little bride behind the
folding door, with a look that made Aunt March whisk out her
pocket handkerchief with a sudden dew in her sharp old eyes.
A crash, a cry, and a laugh from Laurie, accompanied by the
indecorous exclamation, "Jupiter Ammon! Jo's upset the cake again!"
caused a momentary flurry, which was hardly over when a flock of
cousins arrived, and 'the party came in', as Beth used to say when
"Don't let that young giant come near me, he worries me worse
than mosquitoes," whispered the old lady to Amy, as the rooms filled
and Laurie's black head towered above the rest.
"He has promised to be very good today, and he can be perfectly
elegant if he likes," returned Amy, and gliding away to warn
Hercules to beware of the dragon, which warning caused him to haunt
the old lady with a devotion that nearly distracted her.
There was no bridal procession, but a sudden silence fell upon
the room as Mr. March and the young couple took their places under
the green arch. Mother and sisters gathered close, as if loath to
give Meg up. The fatherly voice broke more than once, which only
seemed to make the service more beautiful and solemn. The bridegroom's
hand trembled visibly, and no one heard his replies. But Meg
looked straight up in her husband's eyes, and said, "I will!"
with such tender trust in her own face and voice that her mother's
heart rejoiced and Aunt March sniffed audibly.
Jo did not cry, though she was very near it once, and was only
saved from a demonstration by the consciousness that Laurie was
staring fixedly at her, with a comical mixture of merriment and
emotion in his wicked black eyes. Beth kept her face hidden on her
mother's shoulder, but Amy stood like a graceful statue, with a
most becoming ray of sunshine touching her white forehead and the
flower in her hair.
It wasn't at all the thing, I'm afraid, but the minute she was
fairly married, Meg cried, "The first kiss for Marmee!" and turning,
gave it with her heart on her lips. During the next fifteen minutes
she looked more like a rose than ever, for everyone availed themselves
of their privileges to the fullest extent, from Mr. Laurence
to old Hannah, who, adorned with a headdress fearfully and
wonderfully made, fell upon her in the hall, crying with a sob
and a chuckle, "Bless you, deary, a hundred times! The cake ain't
hurt a mite, and everything looks lovely."
Everybody cleared up after that, and said something brilliant,
or tried to, which did just as well, for laughter is ready when
hearts are light. There was no display of gifts, for they were
already in the little house, nor was there an elaborate breakfast,
but a plentiful lunch of cake and fruit, dressed with flowers.
Mr. Laurence and Aunt March shrugged and smiled at one another when
water, lemonade, and coffee were found to be to only sorts of
nectar which the three Hebes carried round. No one said anything,
till Laurie, who insisted on serving the bride, appeared before her,
with a loaded salver in his hand and a puzzled expression on his face.
"Has Jo smashed all the bottles by accident?" he whispered,
"or am I merely laboring under a delusion that I saw some lying
about loose this morning?"
"No, your grandfather kindly offered us his best, and Aunt
March actually sent some, but Father put away a little for Beth,
and dispatched the rest to the Soldier's Home. You know he thinks
that wine should be used only in illness, and Mother says that
neither she nor her daughters will ever offer it to any young man
under her roof."
Meg spoke seriously and expected to see Laurie frown or laugh,
but he did neither, for after a quick look at her, he said, in
his impetuous way, "I like that! For I've seen enough harm done
to wish other women would think as you do."
"You are not made wise by experience, I hope?" and there was
an anxious accent in Meg's voice.
"No. I give you my word for it. Don't think too well of me,
either, this is not one of my temptations. Being brought up where
wine is as common as water and almost as harmless, I don't care for
it, but when a pretty girl offers it, one doesn't like to refuse,
"But you will, for the sake of others, if not for your own.
Come, Laurie, promise, and give me one more reason to call this the
happiest day of my life."
A demand so sudden and so serious made the young man hesitate
a moment, for ridicule is often harder to bear than self-denial.
Meg knew that if he gave the promise he would keep it at all costs,
and feeling her power, used it as a woman may for her friend's good.
She did not speak, but she looked up at him with a face made very
eloquent by happiness, and a smile which said, "No one can refuse
me anything today."
Laurie certainly could not, and with an answering smile, he
gave her his hand, saying heartily, "I promise, Mrs. Brooke!"
"I thank you, very, very much."
"And I drink 'long life to your resolution', Teddy," cried Jo,
baptizing him with a splash of lemonade, as she waved her glass and
beamed approvingly upon him.
So the toast was drunk, the pledge made and loyally kept in
spite of many temptations, for with instinctive wisdom, the girls
seized a happy moment to do their friend a service, for which he
thanked them all his life.
After lunch, people strolled about, by twos and threes, through
the house and garden, enjoying the sunshine without and within. Meg
and John happened to be standing together in the middle of the grass
plot, when Laurie was seized with an inspiration which put the
finishing touch to this unfashionable wedding.
"All the married people take hands and dance round the new-made
husband and wife, as the Germans do, while we bachelors and
spinsters prance in couples outside!" cried Laurie, promenading down
the path with Amy, with such infectious spirit and skill that
everyone else followed their example without a murmur. Mr. and Mrs.
March, Aunt and Uncle Carrol began it, others rapidly joined in,
even Sallie Moffat, after a moment's hesitation, threw her train
over her arm and whisked Ned into the ring. But the crowning joke
was Mr. Laurence and Aunt March, for when the stately old gentleman
chasseed solemnly up to the old lady, she just tucked her cane under
her arm, and hopped briskly away to join hands with the rest and
dance about the bridal pair, while the young folks pervaded the
garden like butterflies on a midsummer day.
Want of breath brought the impromptu ball to a close, and then
people began to go.
"I wish you well, my dear, I heartily wish you well, but I think
you'll be sorry for it," said Aunt March to Meg, adding to the
bridegroom, as he led her to the carriage, "You've got a treasure,
young man, see that you deserve it."
"That is the prettiest wedding I've been to for an age, Ned, and
I don't see why, for there wasn't a bit of style about it," observed
Mrs. Moffat to her husband, as they drove away.
"Laurie, my lad, if you ever want to indulge in this sort of
thing, get one of those little girls to help you, and I shall be
perfectly satisfied," said Mr. Laurence, settling himself in his
easy chair to rest after the excitement of the morning.
"I'll do my best to gratify you, Sir," was Laurie's unusually
dutiful reply, as he carefully unpinned the posy Jo had put in his
The little house was not far away, and the only bridal journey
Meg had was the quiet walk with John from the old home to the new.
When she came down, looking like a pretty Quakeress in her
dove-colored suit and straw bonnet tied with white, they all gathered
about her to say 'good-by', as tenderly as if she had been going to
make the grand tour.
"Don't feel that I am separated from you, Marmee dear, or that
I love you any the less for loving John so much," she said, clinging
to her mother, with full eyes for a moment. "I shall come every day,
Father, and expect to keep my old place in all your hearts, though I
am married. Beth is going to be with me a great deal, and the other
girls will drop in now and then to laugh at my housekeeping struggles.
Thank you all for my happy wedding day. Goodby, goodby!"
They stood watching her, with faces full of love and hope and
tender pride as she walked away, leaning on her husband's arm, with
her hands full of flowers and the June sunshine brightening her happy
face--and so Meg's married life began.
It takes people a long time to learn the difference between talent
and genius, especially ambitious young men and women. Amy was
learning this distinction through much tribulation, for mistaking
enthusiasm for inspiration, she attempted every branch of art with
youthful audacity. For a long time there was a lull in the 'mud-pie'
business, and she devoted herself to the finest pen-and-ink drawing,
in which she showed such taste and skill that her graceful handiwork
proved both pleasant and profitable. But over-strained eyes caused
pen and ink to be laid aside for a bold attempt at poker-sketching.
While this attack lasted, the family lived in constant fear of a
conflagration, for the odor of burning wood pervaded the house at
all hours, smoke issued from attic and shed with alarming frequency,
red-hot pokers lay about promiscuously, and Hannah never went to bed
without a pail of water and the dinner bell at her door in case of
fire. Raphael's face was found boldly executed on the underside of
the moulding board, and Bacchus on the head of a beer barrel. A
chanting cherub adorned the cover of the sugar bucket, and attempts
to portray Romeo and Juliet supplied kindling for some time.
From fire to oil was a natural transition for burned fingers,
and Amy fell to painting with undiminished ardor. An artist friend
fitted her out with his castoff palettes, brushes, and colors, and
she daubed away, producing pastoral and marine views such as were
never seen on land or sea. Her monstrosities in the way of cattle
would have taken prizes at an agricultural fair, and the perilous
pitching of her vessels would have produced seasickness in the most
nautical observer, if the utter disregard to all known rules of
shipbuilding and rigging had not convulsed him with laughter at the
first glance. Swarthy boys and dark-eyed Madonnas, staring at you
from one corner of the studio, suggested Murillo; oily brown shadows
of faces with a lurid streak in the wrong place, meant Rembrandt;
buxom ladies and dropiscal infants, Rubens; and Turner appeared in
tempests of blue thunder, orange lightning, brown rain, and purple
clouds, with a tomato-colored splash in the middle, which might be
the sun or a bouy, a sailor's shirt or a king's robe, as the
Charcoal portraits came next, and the entire family hung in a
row, looking as wild and crocky as if just evoked from a coalbin.
Softened into crayon sketches, they did better, for the likenesses
were good, and Amy's hair, Jo's nose, Meg's mouth, and Laurie's
eyes were pronounced 'wonderfully fine'. A return to clay and
plaster followed, and ghostly casts of her acquaintances haunted
corners of the house, or tumbled off closet shelves onto people's
heads. Children were enticed in as models, till their incoherent
accounts of her mysterious doings caused Miss Amy to be regarded in
the light of a young ogress. Her efforts in this line, however,
were brought to an abrupt close by an untoward accident, which
quenched her ardor. Other models failing her for a time, she
undertook to cast her own pretty foot, and the family were one day
alarmed by an unearthly bumping and screaming and running to the rescue,
found the young enthusiast hopping wildly about the shed with her
foot held fast in a pan full of plaster, which had hardened with
unexpected rapidity. With much difficulty and some danger she was
dug out, for Jo was so overcome with laughter while she excavated
that her knife went too far, cut the poor foot, and left a lasting
memorial of one artistic attempt, at least.
After this Amy subsided, till a mania for sketching from nature set
her to haunting river, field, and wood, for picturesque studies, and
sighing for ruins to copy. She caught endless colds sitting on damp
grass to book 'a delicious bit', composed of a stone, a stump, one
mushroom, and a broken mullein stalk, or 'a heavenly mass of
clouds', that looked like a choice display of featherbeds when done.
She sacrificed her complexion floating on the river in the midsummer
sun to study light and shade, and got a wrinkle over her nose trying
after 'points of sight', or whatever the squint-and-string
performance is called.
If 'genius is eternal patience', as Michelangelo affirms, Amy
had some claim to the divine attribute, for she persevered in spite
of all obstacles, failures, and discouragements, firmly believing
that in time she should do something worthy to be called 'high art'.
She was learning, doing, and enjoying other things, meanwhile,
for she had resolved to be an attractive and accomplished woman,
even if she never became a great artist. Here she succeeded better,
for she was one of those happily created beings who please without
effort, make friends everywhere, and take life so gracefully and
easily that less fortunate souls are tempted to believe that such
are born under a lucky star. Everybody liked her, for among her
good gifts was tact. She had an instinctive sense of what was
pleasing and proper, always said the right thing to the right person,
did just what suited the time and place, and was so self-possessed
that her sisters used to say, "If Amy went to court without any
rehearsal beforehand, she'd know exactly what to do."
One of her weaknesses was a desire to move in 'our best society',
without being quite sure what the best really was. Money, position,
fashionable accomplishments, and elegant manners were most desirable
things in her eyes, and she liked to associate with those who
possessed them, often mistaking the false for the true, and admiring
what was not admirable. Never forgetting that by birth she was a
gentlewoman, she cultivated her aristocratic tastes and feelings, so
that when the opportunity came she might be ready to take the place
from which poverty now excluded her.
"My lady," as her friends called her, sincerely desired to be
a genuine lady, and was so at heart, but had yet to learn that money
cannot buy refinement of nature, that rank does not always confer
nobility, and that true breeding makes itself felt in spite of
"I want to ask a favor of you, Mamma," Amy said, coming in
with an important air one day.
"Well, little girl, what is it?" replied her mother, in whose
eyes the stately young lady still remained 'the baby'.
"Our drawing class breaks up next week, and before the girls
separate for the summer, I want to ask them out here for a day. They
are wild to see the river, sketch the broken bridge, and copy some
of the things they admire in my book. They have been very kind to
me in many ways, and I am grateful, for they are all rich and I know
I am poor, yet they never made any difference."
"Why should they?" and Mrs. March put the question with what
the girls called her 'Maria Theresa air'.
"You know as well as I that it does make a difference with
nearly everyone, so don't ruffle up like a dear, motherly hen, when
your chickens get pecked by smarter birds. The ugly duckling turned
out a swan, you know." and Amy smiled without bitterness, for she
possessed a happy temper and hopeful spirit.
Mrs. March laughed, and smoothed down her maternal pride as
she asked, "Well, my swan, what is your plan?"
"I should like to ask the girls out to lunch next week, to take
them for a drive to the places they want to see, a row on the river,
perhaps, and make a little artistic fete for them."
"That looks feasible. What do you want for lunch? Cake,
sandwiches, fruit, and coffee will be all that is necessary, I
"Oh, dear, no! We must have cold tongue and chicken, French
chocolate and ice cream, besides. The girls are used to such things,
and I want my lunch to be proper and elegant, though I do work for
"How many young ladies are there?" asked her mother, beginning
to look sober.
"Twelve or fourteen in the class, but I dare say they won't all come."
"Bless me, child, you will have to charter an omnibus to carry
"Why, Mother, how can you think of such a thing? Not more than
six or eight will probably come, so I shall hire a beach wagon and
borrow Mr. Laurence's cherry-bounce." (Hannah's pronunciation of
"All of this will be expensive, Amy."
"Not very. I've calculated the cost, and I'll pay for it myself."
"Don't you think, dear, that as these girls are used to such
things, and the best we can do will be nothing new, that some simpler
plan would be pleasanter to them, as a change if nothing more, and
much better for us than buying or borrowing what we don't need, and
attempting a style not in keeping with our circumstances?"
"If I can't have it as I like, I don't care to have it at all.
I know that I can carry it out perfectly well, if you and the girls
will help a little, and I don't see why I can't if I'm willing to pay
for it," said Amy, with the decision which opposition was apt to
change into obstinacy.
Mrs. March knew that experience was an excellent teacher, and
when it was possible she left her children to learn alone the lessons
which she would gladly have made easier, if they had not objected to
taking advice as much as they did salts and senna.
"Very well, Amy, if your heart is set upon it, and you see your
way through without too great an outlay of money, time, and temper,
I'll say no more. Talk it over with the girls, and whichever way
you decide, I'll do my best to help you."
"Thanks, Mother, you are always so kind." and away went Amy to
lay her plan before her sisters.
Meg agreed at once, and promised her aid, gladly offering
anything she possessed, from her little house itself to her very
best saltspoons. But Jo frowned upon the whole project and would
have nothing to do with it at first.
"Why in the world should you spend your money, worry your family,
and turn the house upside down for a parcel of girls who don't care a
sixpence for you? I thought you had too much pride and sense to
truckle to any mortal woman just because she wears French boots and
rides in a coupe," said Jo, who, being called from the tragic climax
of her novel, was not in the best mood for social enterprises.
"I don't truckle, and I hate being patronized as much as you do!"
returned Amy indignantly, for the two still jangled when such
questions arose. "The girls do care for me, and I for them, and
there's a great deal of kindness and sense and talent among them, in
spite of what you call fashionable nonsense. You don't care to make
people like you, to go into good society, and cultivate your manners
and tastes. I do, and I mean to make the most of every chance that
comes. You can go through the world with your elbows out and your
nose in the air, and call it independence, if you like. That's not
When Amy had whetted her tongue and freed her mind she usually got
the best of it, for she seldom failed to have common sense on her
side, while Jo carried her love of liberty and hate of
conventionalities to such an unlimited extent that she naturally
found herself worsted in an argument. Amy's definition of Jo's idea
of independence was such a good hit that both burst out laughing,
and the discussion took a more amiable turn. Much against her will,
Jo at length consented to sacrifice a day to Mrs. Grundy, and help
her sister through what she regarded as 'a nonsensical business'.
The invitations were sent, nearly all accepted, and the following
Monday was set apart for the grand event. Hannah was out of humor
because her week's work was deranged, and prophesied that "ef the
washin' and ironin' warn't done reg'lar, nothin' would go well
anywheres". This hitch in the mainspring of the domestic machinery
had a bad effect upon the whole concern, but Amy's motto was 'Nil
desperandum', and having made up her mind what to do, she proceeded
to do it in spite of all obstacles. To begin with, Hannah's cooking
didn't turn out well. The chicken was tough, the tongue too salty,
and the chocolate wouldn't froth properly. Then the cake and ice cost
more than Amy expected, so did the wagon, and various other expenses,
which seemed trifling at the outset, counted up rather alarmingly
afterward. Beth got a cold and took to her bed. Meg had an unusual
number of callers to keep her at home, and Jo was in such a divided
state of mind that her breakages, accidents, and mistakes were
uncommonly numerous, serious, and trying.
If it was not fair on Monday, the young ladies were to come on
Tuesday, an arrangement which aggravated Jo and Hannah to the last
degree. On Monday morning the weather was in that undecided state
which is more exasperating than a steady pour. It drizzled a little,
shone a little, blew a little, and didn't make up its mind till it
was too late for anyone else to make up theirs. Amy was up at dawn,
hustling people out of their beds and through their breakfasts, that
the house might be got in order. The parlor struck her as looking
uncommonly shabby, but without stopping to sigh for what she had not,
she skillfully made the best of what she had, arranging chairs over
the worn places in the carpet, covering stains on the walls with
homemade statuary, which gave an artistic air to the room, as did the
lovely vases of flowers Jo scattered about.
The lunch looked charming, and as she surveyed it, she sincerely
hoped it would taste well, and that the borrowed glass, china, and
silver would get safely home again. The carriages were promised, Meg
and Mother were all ready to do the honors, Beth was able to help
Hannah behind the scenes, Jo had engaged to be as lively and amiable
as an absent mind, and aching head, and a very decided disapproval of
everybody and everything would allow, and as she wearily dressed, Amy
cheered herself with anticipations of the happy moment when, lunch
safely over, she should drive away with her friends for an afternoon
of artistic delights, for the 'cherry bounce' and the broken bridge
were her strong points.
Then came the hours of suspense, during which she vibrated from
parlor to porch, while public opinion varied like the weathercock. A
smart shower at eleven had evidently quenched the enthusiasm of the
young ladies who were to arrive at twelve, for nobody came, and at two
the exhausted family sat down in a blaze of sunshine to consume the
perishable portions of the feast, that nothing might be lost.
"No doubt about the weather today, they will certainly come, so
we must fly round and be ready for them," said Amy, as the sun woke
her next morning. She spoke briskly, but in her secret soul she wished
she had said nothing about Tuesday, for her interest like her cake was
getting a little stale.
"I can't get any lobsters, so you will have to do without salad
today," said Mr. March, coming in half an hour later, with an
expression of placid despair.
"Use the chicken then, the toughness won't matter in a salad,"
advised his wife.
"Hannah left it on the kitchen table a minute, and the kittens got at
it. I'm very sorry, Amy," added Beth, who was still a patroness of cats.
"Then I must have a lobster, for tongue alone won't do," said Amy
"Shall I rush into town and demand one?" asked Jo, with the
magnanimity of a martyr.
"You'd come bringing it home under your arm without any paper,
just to try me. I'll go myself," answered Amy, whose temper was
beginning to fail.
Shrouded in a thick veil and armed with a genteel traveling basket,
she departed, feeling that a cool drive would soothe her ruffled spirit
and fit her for the labors of the day. After some delay, the object of
her desire was procured, likewise a bottle of dressing to prevent
further loss of time at home, and off she drove again, well pleased
with her own forethought.
As the omnibus contained only one other passenger, a sleepy old
lady, Amy pocketed her veil and beguiled the tedium of the way by
trying to find out where all her money had gone to. So busy was she
with her card full of refractory figures that she did not observe a
newcomer, who entered without stopping the vehicle, till a masculine
voice said, "Good morning, Miss March," and, looking up, she beheld
one of Laurie's most elegant college friends. Fervently hoping that
he would get out before she did, Amy utterly ignored the basket at her
feet, and congratulating herself that she had on her new traveling
dress, returned the young man's greeting with her usual suavity and
They got on excellently, for Amy's chief care was soon set at
rest by learning that the gentleman would leave first, and she was
chatting away in a peculiarly lofty strain, when the old lady got out.
In stumbling to the door, she upset the basket, and--oh horror!--the
lobster, in all its vulgar size and brilliancy, was revealed to the
highborn eyes of a Tudor!
"By Jove, she's forgotten her dinner!" cried the unconscious
youth, poking the scarlet monster into its place with his cane, and
preparing to hand out the basket after the old lady.
"Please don't--it's--it's mine," murmured Amy, with a face nearly
as red as her fish.
"Oh, really, I beg pardon. It's an uncommonly fine one, isn't it?"
said Tudor, with great presence of mind, and an air of sober interest
that did credit to his breeding.
Amy recovered herself in a breath, set her basket boldly on the
seat, and said, laughing, "Don't you wish you were to have some of the
salad he's going to make, and to see the charming young ladies who are
to eat it?"
Now that was tact, for two of the ruling foibles of the masculine
mind were touched. The lobster was instantly surrounded by a halo of
pleasing reminiscences, and curiosity about 'the charming young ladies'
diverted his mind from the comical mishap.
"I suppose he'll laugh and joke over it with Laurie, but I shan't
see them, that's a comfort," thought Amy, as Tudor bowed and departed.
She did not mention this meeting at home (though she discovered
that, thanks to the upset, her new dress was much damaged by the
rivulets of dressing that meandered down the skirt), but went through
with the preparations which now seemed more irksome than before, and
at twelve o'clock all was ready again. Feeling that the neighbors
were interested in her movements, she wished to efface the memory of
yesterday's failure by a grand success today, so she ordered the
'cherry bounce', and drove away in state to meet and escort her guests
to the banquet.
"There's the rumble, they're coming! I'll go onto the porch and
meet them. It looks hospitable, and I want the poor child to have a
good time after all her trouble," said Mrs. March, suiting the action
to the word. But after one glance, she retired, with an indescribable
expression, for looking quite lost in the big carriage, sat Amy and
one young lady.
"Run, Beth, and help Hannah clear half the things off the table.
It will be too absurd to put a luncheon for twelve before a single
girl," cried Jo, hurrying away to the lower regions, too excited to
stop even for a laugh.
In came Amy, quite calm and delightfully cordial to the one
guest who had kept her promise. The rest of the family, being of
a dramatic turn, played their parts equally well, and Miss Eliott
found them a most hilarious set, for it was impossible to control
entirely the merriment which possessed them. The remodeled lunch
being gaily partaken of, the studio and garden visited, and art
discussed with enthusiasm, Amy ordered a buggy (alas for the elegant
cherry-bounce), and drove her friend quietly about the neighborhood
till sunset, when 'the party went out'.
As she came walking in, looking very tired but as composed as
ever, she observed that every vestige of the unfortunate fete had
disappeared, except a suspicious pucker about the corners of Jo's
"You've had a loverly afternoon for your drive, dear," said
her mother, as respectfully as if the whole twelve had come.
"Miss Eliott is a very sweet girl, and seemed to enjoy herself,
I thought," observed Beth, with unusual warmth.
"Could you spare me some of your cake? I really need some, I
have so much company, and I can't make such delicious stuff as yours,"
asked Meg soberly.
"Take it all. I'm the only one here who likes sweet things, and
it will mold before I can dispose of it," answered Amy, thinking with
a sigh of the generous store she had laid in for such an end as this.
"It's a pity Laurie isn't here to help us," began Jo, as they sat
down to ice cream and salad for the second time in two days.
A warning look from her mother checked any further remarks, and
the whole family ate in heroic silence, till Mr. March mildly observed,
"salad was one of the favorite dishes of the ancients, and Evelyn . . ."
Here a general explosion of laughter cut short the 'history of salads',
to the great surprise of the learned gentleman.
"Bundle everything into a basket and send it to the Hummels. Germans
like messes. I'm sick of the sight of this, and there's no reason you
should all die of a surfeit because I've been a fool," cried Amy, wiping
"I thought I should have died when I saw you two girls rattling
about in the what-you-call-it, like two little kernels in a very big
nutshell, and Mother waiting in state to receive the throng," sighed
Jo, quite spent with laughter.
"I'm very sorry you were disappointed, dear, but we all did our
best to satisfy you," said Mrs. March, in a tone full of motherly
"I am satisfied. I've done what I undertook, and it's not my
fault that it failed. I comfort myself with that," said Amy with a
little quiver in her voice. "I thank you all very much for helping
me, and I'll thank you still more if you won't allude to it for a
month, at least."
No one did for several months, but the word 'fete' always produced
a general smile, and Laurie's birthday gift to Amy was a tiny
coral lobster in the shape of a charm for her watch guard.
Fortune suddenly smiled upon Jo, and dropped a good luck
penny in her path. Not a golden penny, exactly, but I doubt
if half a million would have given more real happiness then did
the little sum that came to her in this wise.
Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put
on her scribbling suit, and 'fall into a vortex', as she expressed
it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till
that was finished she could find no peace. Her 'scribbling suit'
consisted of a black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her
pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a
cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were
cleared for action. This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of
her family, who during these periods kept their distance, merely
popping in their heads semi-occasionally to ask, with interest,
"Does genius burn, Jo?" They did not always venture even to ask
this question, but took an observation of the cap, and judged
accordingly. If this expressive article of dress was drawn low
upon the forehead, it was a sign that hard work was going on, in
exciting moments it was pushed rakishly askew, and when despair
seized the author it was plucked wholly off, and cast upon the
floor. At such times the intruder silently withdrew, and not
until the red bow was seen gaily erect upon the gifted brow,
did anyone dare address Jo.
She did not think herself a genius by any means, but when the
writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon,
and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather,
while she sat safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends
almost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh. Sleep forsook
her eyes, meals stood untasted, day and night were all too short to
enjoy the happiness which blessed her only at such times, and made
these hours worth living, even if they bore no other fruit. The
devine afflatus usually lasted a week or two, and then she emerged
from her 'vortex', hungry, sleepy, cross, or despondent.
She was just recovering from one of these attacks when she was
prevailed upon to escort Miss Crocker to a lecture, and in return
for her virtue was rewarded with a new idea. It was a People's
Course, the lecture on the Pyramids, and Jo rather wondered at the
choice of such a subject for such an audience, but took it for
granted that some great social evil would be remedied or some great
want supplied by unfolding the glories of the Pharaohs to an
audience whose thoughts were busy with the price of coal and flour,
and whose lives were spent in trying to solve harder riddles than
that of the Sphinx.
They were early, and while Miss Crocker set the heel of her
stocking, Jo amused herself by examining the faces of the people who
occupied the seat with them. On her left were two matrons, with
massive foreheads and bonnets to match, discussing Women's Rights
and making tatting. Beyond sat a pair of humble lovers, artlessly
holding each other by the hand, a somber spinster eating peppermints
out of a paper bag, and an old gentleman taking his preparatory nap
behind a yellow bandanna. On her right, her only neighbor was a
studious looking lad absorbed in a newspaper.
It was a pictorial sheet, and Jo examined the work of art nearest
her, idly wondering what fortuitous concatenation of circumstances
needed the melodramatic illustration of an Indian in full war
costume, tumbling over a precipice with a wolf at his throat, while
two infuriated young gentlemen, with unnaturally small feet and big
eyes, were stabbing each other close by, and a disheveled female was
flying away in the background with her mouth wide open. Pausing to
turn a page, the lad saw her looking and, with boyish good nature
offered half his paper, saying bluntly, "want to read it? That's a
Jo accepted it with a smile, for she had never outgrown her liking
for lads, and soon found herself involved in the usual labyrinth of
love, mystery, and murder, for the story belonged to that class of
light literature in which the passions have a holiday, and when the
author's invention fails, a grand catastrophe clears the stage of
one half the dramatis personae, leaving the other half to exult over
"Prime, isn't it?" asked the boy, as her eye went down the last
paragraph of her portion.
"I think you and I could do as well as that if we tried,"
returned Jo, amused at his admiration of the trash.
"I should think I was a pretty lucky chap if I could. She makes
a good living out of such stories, they say." and he pointed to the
name of Mrs. S.L.A.N.G. Northbury, under the title of the tale.
"Do you know her?" asked Jo, with sudden interest.
"No, but I read all her pieces, and I know a fellow who works in
the office where this paper is printed."
"Do you say she makes a good living out of stories like this?"
and Jo looked more respectfully at the agitated group and thickly
sprinkled exclamation points that adorned the page.
"Guess she does! She knows just what folks like, and gets paid
well for writing it."
Here the lecture began, but Jo heard very little of it, for while
Professor Sands was prosing away about Belzoni, Cheops, scarabei, and
hieroglyphics, she was covertly taking down the address of the paper,
and boldly resolving to try for the hundred-dollar prize offered in
its columns for a sensational story. By the time the lecture ended
and the audience awoke, she had built up a splendid fortune for herself
(not the first founded on paper), and was already deep in the
concoction of her story, being unable to decide whether the duel
should come before the elopement or after the murder.
She said nothing of her plan at home, but fell to work next day,
much to the disquiet of her mother, who always looked a little anxious
when 'genius took to burning'. Jo had never tried this style before,
contenting herself with very mild romances for _The Spread Eagle_. Her
experience and miscellaneous reading were of service now, for they
gave her some idea of dramatic effect, and supplied plot, language,
and costumes. Her story was as full of desperation and despair as her
limited acquaintance with those uncomfortable emotions enabled her to
make it, and having located it in Lisbon, she wound up with an earthquake,
as a striking and appropriate denouement. The manuscript was
privately dispatched, accompanied by a note, modestly saying that if
the tale didn't get the prize, which the writer hardly dared expect,
she would be very glad to receive any sum it might be considered worth.
Six weeks is a long time to wait, and a still longer time for
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