Louisa May Alcott
Part 7 out of 11
a girl to keep a secret, but Jo did both, and was just beginning
to give up all hope of ever seeing her manuscript again,
when a letter arrived which almost took her breath away, for on
opening it, a check for a hundred dollars fell into her lap. For
a minute she stared at it as if it had been a snake, then she read
her letter and began to cry. If the amiable gentleman who wrote
that kindly note could have known what intense happiness he was
giving a fellow creature, I think he would devote his leisure hours,
if he has any, to that amusement, for Jo valued the letter more than
the money, because it was encouraging, and after years of effort it
was so pleasant to find that she had learned to do something, though
it was only to write a sensation story.
A prouder young woman was seldom seen than she, when, having
composed herself, she electrified the family by appearing before them
with the letter in one hand, the check in the other, announcing that
she had won the prize. Of course there was a great jubilee, and when
the story came everyone read and praised it, though after her father
had told her that the language was good, the romance fresh and hearty,
and the tragedy quite thrilling, he shook his head, and said in his
unworldly way . . .
"You can do better than this, Jo. Aim at the highest, and never
mind the money."
"I think the money is the best part of it. What will you do with
such a fortune?" asked Amy, regarding the magic slip of paper with a
"Send Beth and Mother to the seaside for a month or two," answered
To the seaside they went, after much discussion, and though Beth
didn't come home as plump and rosy as could be desired, she was much
better, while Mrs. March declared she felt ten years younger. So Jo
was satisfied with the investment of her prize money, and fell to work
with a cheery spirit, bent on earning more of those delightful checks.
She did earn several that year, and began to feel herself a power
in the house, for by the magic of a pen, her 'rubbish' turned into
comforts for them all. The Duke's Daughter paid the butcher's bill,
A Phantom Hand put down a new carpet, and the Curse of the Coventrys
proved the blessing of the Marches in the way of groceries and gowns.
Wealth is certainly a most desirable thing, but poverty has its
sunny side, and one of the sweet uses of adversity is the genuine
satisfaction which comes from hearty work of head or hand, and to the
inspiration of necessity, we owe half the wise, beautiful, and useful
blessings of the world. Jo enjoyed a taste of this satisfaction,
and ceased to envy richer girls, taking great comfort in the knowledge
that she could supply her own wants, and need ask no one for a penny.
Little notice was taken of her stories, but they found a market,
and encouraged by this fact, she resolved to make a bold stroke for
fame and fortune. Having copied her novel for the fourth time, read
it to all her confidential friends, and submitted it with fear and
trembling to three publishers, she at last disposed of it, on condition
that she would cut it down one third, and omit all the parts
which she particularly admired.
"Now I must either bundle it back in to my tin kitchen to mold,
pay for printing it myself, or chop it up to suit purchasers and get
what I can for it. Fame is a very good thing to have in the house,
but cash is more convenient, so I wish to take the sense of the meeting
on this important subject," said Jo, calling a family council.
"Don't spoil your book, my girl, for there is more in it than
you know, and the idea is well worked out. Let it wait and ripen,"
was her father's advice, and he practiced what he preached, having
waited patiently thirty years for fruit of his own to ripen, and
being in no haste to gather it even now when it was sweet and mellow.
"It seems to me that Jo will profit more by taking the trial
than by waiting," said Mrs. March. "Criticism is the best test of
such work, for it will show her both unsuspected merits and faults,
and help her to do better next time. We are too partial, but the
praise and blame of outsiders will prove useful, even if she gets
but little money."
"Yes," said Jo, knitting her brows, "that's just it. I've been
fussing over the thing so long, I really don't know whether it's good,
bad, or indifferent. It will be a great help to have cool, impartial
persons take a look at it, and tell me what they think of it."
"I wouldn't leave a word out of it. You'll spoil it if you do,
for the interest of the story is more in the minds than in the actions
of the people, and it will be all a muddle if you don't explain as you
go on," said Meg, who firmly believed that this book was the most
remarkable novel ever written.
"But Mr. Allen says, 'Leave out the explanations, make it brief
and dramatic, and let the characters tell the story'," interrupted
Jo, turning to the publisher's note.
"Do as he tells you. He knows what will sell, and we don't.
Make a good, popular book, and get as much money as you can.
By-and-by, when you've got a name, you can afford to digress,
and have philosophical and metaphysical people in your novels,"
said Amy, who took a strictly practical view of the subject.
"Well," said Jo, laughing, "if my people are 'philosophical and
metaphysical', it isn't my fault, for I know nothing about such
things, except what I hear father say, sometimes. If I've got some
of his wise ideas jumbled up with my romance, so much the better for
me. Now, Beth, what do you say?"
"I should so like to see it printed soon," was all Beth said,
and smiled in saying it. But there was an unconscious emphasis on
the last word, and a wistful look in the eyes that never lost their
childlike candor, which chilled Jo's heart for a minute with a
forboding fear, and decided her to make her little venture 'soon'.
So, with Spartan firmness, the young authoress laid her first-born
on her table, and chopped it up as ruthlessly as any ogre. In the hope
of pleasing everyone, she took everyone's advice, and like the old man
and his donkey in the fable suited nobody.
Her father liked the metaphysical streak which had unconsciously got
into it, so that was allowed to remain though she had her doubts
about it. Her mother thought that there was a trifle too much
description. Out, therefore it came, and with it many necessary
links in the story. Meg admired the tragedy, so Jo piled up the
agony to suit her, while Amy objected to the fun, and, with the best
intentions in life, Jo quenched the spritly scenes which relieved
the somber character of the story. Then, to complicate the ruin, she
cut it down one third, and confidingly sent the poor little romance,
like a picked robin, out into the big, busy world to try its fate.
Well, it was printed, and she got three hundred dollars for
it, likewise plenty of praise and blame, both so much greater than
she expected that she was thrown into a state of bewilderment from
which it took her some time to recover.
"You said, Mother, that criticism would help me. But how can
it, when it's so contradictory that I don't know whether I've written
a promising book or broken all the ten commandments?" cried poor
Jo, turning over a heap of notices, the perusal of which filled her
with pride and joy one minute, wrath and dismay the next. "This
man says, 'An exquisite book, full of truth, beauty, and earnestness.'
'All is sweet, pure, and healthy.'" continued the perplexed
authoress. "The next, 'The theory of the book is bad, full of
morbid fancies, spiritualistic ideas, and unnatural characters.'
Now, as I had no theory of any kind, don't believe in Spiritualism,
and copied my characters from life, I don't see how this critic can
be right. Another says, 'It's one of the best American novels which
has appeared for years.' (I know better than that), and the next
asserts that 'Though it is original, and written with great force
and feeling, it is a dangerous book.' 'Tisn't! Some make fun of it,
some overpraise, and nearly all insist that I had a deep theory to
expound, when I only wrote it for the pleasure and the money. I
wish I'd printed the whole or not at all, for I do hate to be so
Her family and friends administered comfort and commendation
liberally. Yet it was a hard time for sensitive, high-spirited Jo,
who meant so well and had apparently done so ill. But it did her
good, for those whose opinion had real value gave her the criticism
which is an author's best education, and when the first soreness
was over, she could laugh at her poor little book, yet believe in
it still, and feel herself the wiser and stronger for the buffeting
she had received.
"Not being a genius, like Keats, it won't kill me," she said
stoutly, "and I've got the joke on my side, after all, for the parts
that were taken straight out of real life are denounced as impossible
and absurd, and the scenes that I made up out of my own silly head
are pronounced 'charmingly natural, tender, and true'. So I'll
comfort myself with that, and when I'm ready, I'll up again and take
Like most other young matrons, Meg began her married life
with the determination to be a model housekeeper. John should
find home a paradise, he should always see a smiling face,
should fare sumptuously every day, and never know the loss of
a button. She brought so much love, energy, and cheerfulness
to the work that she could not but succeed, in spite of some
obstacles. Her paradise was not a tranquil one, for the little
woman fussed, was over-anxious to please, and bustled about like
a true Martha, cumbered with many cares. She was too tired, sometimes,
even to smile, John grew dyspeptic after a course of dainty
dishes and ungratefully demanded plain fare. As for buttons,
she soon learned to wonder where they went, to shake her head over
the carelessness of men, and to threaten to make him sew them
on himself, and see if his work would stand impatient and clumsy
fingers any better than hers.
They were very happy, even after they discovered that they couldn't
live on love alone. John did not find Meg's beauty diminished,
though she beamed at him from behind the familiar coffee pot. Nor
did Meg miss any of the romance from the daily parting, when her
husband followed up his kiss with the tender inquiry, "Shall I send
some veal or mutton for dinner, darling?" The little house ceased to
be a glorified bower, but it became a home, and the young couple
soon felt that it was a change for the better. At first they played
keep-house, and frolicked over it like children. Then John took
steadily to business, feeling the cares of the head of a family upon
his shoulders, and Meg laid by her cambric wrappers, put on a big
apron, and fell to work, as before said, with more energy than
While the cooking mania lasted she went through Mrs. Cornelius's
Receipt Book as if it were a mathematical exercise, working out the
problems with patience and care. Sometimes her family were invited
in to help eat up a too bounteous feast of successes, or Lotty would
be privately dispatched with a batch of failures, which were to be
concealed from all eyes in the convenient stomachs of the little
Hummels. An evening with John over the account books usually produced
a temporary lull in the culinary enthusiasm, and a frugal fit
would ensue, during which the poor man was put through a course of
bread pudding, hash, and warmed-over coffee, which tried his soul,
although he bore it with praiseworthy fortitude. Before the golden
mean was found, however, Meg added to her domestic possessions what
young couples seldom get on long without, a family jar.
Fired a with housewifely wish to see her storeroom stocked with
homemade preserves, she undertook to put up her own currant jelly.
John was requested to order home a dozen or so of little pots and an
extra quantity of sugar, for their own currants were ripe and were
to be attended to at once. As John firmly believed that 'my wife'
was equal to anything, and took a natural pride in her skill, he
resolved that she should be gratified, and their only crop of fruit
laid by in a most pleasing form for winter use. Home came four
dozen delightful little pots, half a barrel of sugar, and a small
boy to pick the currants for her. With her pretty hair tucked into
a little cap, arms bared to the elbow, and a checked apron which
had a coquettish look in spite of the bib, the young housewife fell
to work, feeling no doubts about her success, for hadn't she seen
Hannah do it hundreds of times? The array of pots rather amazed her
at first, but John was so fond of jelly, and the nice little jars
would look so well on the top shelf, that Meg resolved to fill them
all, and spent a long day picking, boiling, straining, and fussing
over her jelly. She did her best, she asked advice of Mrs. Cornelius,
she racked her brain to remember what Hannah did that she left
undone, she reboiled, resugared, and restrained, but that dreadful
stuff wouldn't 'jell'.
She longed to run home, bib and all, and ask Mother to lend her
a hand, but John and she had agreed that they would never annoy anyone
with their private worries, experiments, or quarrels. They had
laughed over that last word as if the idea it suggested was a most
preposterous one, but they had held to their resolve, and whenever
they could get on without help they did so, and no one interfered,
for Mrs. March had advised the plan. So Meg wrestled alone with the
refractory sweetmeats all that hot summer day, and at five o'clock
sat down in her topsy-turvey kitchen, wrung her bedaubed hands,
lifted up her voice and wept.
Now, in the first flush of the new life, she had often said,
"My husband shall always feel free to bring a friend home whenever
he likes. I shall always be prepared. There shall be no flurry, no
scolding, no discomfort, but a neat house, a cheerful wife, and a
good dinner. John, dear, never stop to ask my leave, invite whom
you please, and be sure of a welcome from me."
How charming that was, to be sure! John quite glowed with
pride to hear her say it, and felt what a blessed thing it was to
have a superior wife. But, although they had had company from time
to time, it never happened to be unexpected, and Meg had never had
an opportunity to distinguish herself till now. It always happens
so in this vale of tears, there is an inevitability about such things
which we can only wonder at, deplore, and bear as we best can.
If John had not forgotten all about the jelly, it really would
have been unpardonable in him to choose that day, of all the days in
the year, to bring a friend home to dinner unexpectedly. Congratulating
himself that a handsome repast had been ordered that morning,
feeling sure that it would be ready to the minute, and indulging in
pleasant anticipations of the charming effect it would produce, when
his pretty wife came running out to meet him, he escorted his friend
to his mansion, with the irrepressible satisfaction of a young
host and husband.
It is a world of disappointments, as John discovered when he
reached the Dovecote. The front door usually stood hospitably open.
Now it was not only shut, but locked, and yesterday's mud still
adorned the steps. The parlor windows were closed and curtained,
no picture of the pretty wife sewing on the piazza, in white, with
a distracting little bow in her hair, or a bright-eyed hostess,
smiling a shy welcome as she greeted her guest. Nothing of the sort,
for not a soul appeared but a sanginary-looking boy asleep under the
"I'm afraid something has happened. Step into the garden, Scott,
while I look up Mrs. Brooke," said John, alarmed at the silence and
Round the house he hurried, led by a pungent smell of burned
sugar, and Mr. Scott strolled after him, with a queer look on his
face. He paused discreetly at a distance when Brooke disappeared,
but he could both see and hear, and being a bachelor, enjoyed the
In the kitchen reigned confusion and despair. One edition of
jelly was trickled from pot to pot, another lay upon the floor,
and a third was burning gaily on the stove. Lotty, with Teutonic
phlegm, was calmly eating bread and currant wine, for the jelly was
still in a hopelessly liquid state, while Mrs. Brooke, with her apron
over her head, sat sobbing dismally.
"My dearest girl, what is the matter?" cried John, rushing in,
with awful visions of scalded hands, sudden news of affliction, and
secret consternation at the thought of the guest in the garden.
"Oh, John, I am so tired and hot and cross and worried! I've
been at it till I'm all worn out. Do come and help me or I shall
die!" and the exhausted housewife cast herself upon his breast,
giving him a sweet welcome in every sense of the word, for her
pinafore had been baptized at the same time as the floor.
"What worries you dear? Has anything dreadful happened?"
asked the anxious John, tenderly kissing the crown of the little
cap, which was all askew.
"Yes," sobbed Meg despairingly.
"Tell me quick, then. Don't cry. I can bear anything better
than that. Out with it, love."
"The . . . The jelly won't jell and I don't know what to do!"
John Brooke laughed then as he never dared to laugh afterward,
and the derisive Scott smiled involuntarily as he heard the hearty
peal, which put the finishing stroke to poor Meg's woe.
"Is that all? Fling it out of the window, and don't bother any
more about it. I'll buy you quarts if you want it, but for heaven's
sake don't have hysterics, for I've brought Jack Scott home to dinner,
and . . ."
John got no further, for Meg cast him off, and clasped her hands
with a tragic gesture as she fell into a chair, exclaiming in a tone
of mingled indignation, reproach, and dismay . . .
"A man to dinner, and everything in a mess! John Brooke, how
could you do such a thing?"
"Hush, he's in the garden! I forgot the confounded jelly, but
it can't be helped now," said John, surveying the prospect with an
"You ought to have sent word, or told me this morning, and you
ought to have remembered how busy I was," continued Meg petulantly,
for even turtledoves will peck when ruffled.
"I didn't know it this morning, and there was no time to send
word, for I met him on the way out. I never thought of asking leave,
when you have always told me to do as I liked. I never tried it before,
and hang me if I ever do again!" added John, with an aggrieved air.
"I should hope not! Take him away at once. I can't see him,
and there isn't any dinner."
"Well, I like that! Where's the beef and vegetables I sent
home, and the pudding you promised?" cried John, rushing to the
"I hadn't time to cook anything. I meant to dine at Mother's.
I'm sorry, but I was so busy," and Meg's tears began again.
John was a mild man, but he was human, and after a long day's
work to come home tired, hungry, and hopeful, to find a chaotic
house, an empty table, and a cross wife was not exactly conductive
to repose of mind or manner. He restrained himself however, and the
little squall would have blown over, but for one unlucky word.
"It's a scrape, I acknowledge, but if you will lend a hand,
we'll pull through and have a good time yet. Don't cry, dear, but
just exert yourself a bit, and fix us up something to eat. We're
both as hungry as hunters, so we shan't mind what it is. Give us
the cold meat, and bread and cheese. We won't ask for jelly."
He meant it to be a good-natured joke, but that one word sealed
his fate. Meg thought it was too cruel to hint about her sad failure,
and the last atom of patience vanished as he spoke.
"You must get yourself out of the scrape as you can. I'm too
used up to 'exert' myself for anyone. It's like a man to propose
a bone and vulgar bread and cheese for company. I won't have anything
of the sort in my house. Take that Scott up to Mother's, and
tell him I'm away, sick, dead, anything. I won't see him, and you
two can laugh at me and my jelly as much as you like. You won't
have anything else here." and having delivered her defiance all
on one breath, Meg cast away her pinafore and precipitately left the
field to bemoan herself in her own room.
What those two creatures did in her absence, she never knew, but Mr.
Scott was not taken 'up to Mother's', and when Meg descended, after
they had strolled away together, she found traces of a promiscuous
lunch which filled her with horror. Lotty reported that they had
eaten "a much, and greatly laughed, and the master bid her throw
away all the sweet stuff, and hide the pots."
Meg longed to go and tell Mother, but a sense of shame at her own
short-comings, of loyalty to John, "who might be cruel, but nobody
should know it," restrained her, and after a summary cleaning up,
she dressed herself prettily, and sat down to wait for John to
come and be forgiven.
Unfortunately, John didn't come, not seeing the matter in that
light. He had carried it off as a good joke with Scott, excused his
little wife as well as he could, and played the host so hospitably
that his friend enjoyed the impromptu dinner, and promised to come
again, but John was angry, though he did not show it, he felt that
Meg had deserted him in his hour of need. "It wasn't fair to tell
a man to bring folks home any time, with perfect freedom, and when
he took you at your word, to flame up and blame him, and leave him
in the lurch, to be laughed at or pitied. No, by George, it wasn't!
And Meg must know it."
He had fumed inwardly during the feast, but when the flurry was
over and he strolled home after seeing Scott off, a milder mood came
over him. "Poor little thing! It was hard upon her when she tried so
heartily to please me. She was wrong, of course, but then she was
young. I must be patient and teach her." He hoped she had not gone
home--he hated gossip and interference. For a minute he was ruffled
again at the mere thought of it, and then the fear that Meg would cry
herself sick softened his heart, and sent him on at a quicker pace,
resolving to be calm and kind, but firm, quite firm, and show her
where she had failed in her duty to her spouse.
Meg likewise resolved to be 'calm and kind, but firm', and show
him his duty. She longed to run to meet him, and beg pardon, and be
kissed and comforted, as she was sure of being, but, of course, she
did nothing of the sort, and when she saw John coming, began to hum
quite naturally, as she rocked and sewed, like a lady of leisure in
her best parlor.
John was a little disappointed not to find a tender Niobe, but
feeling that his dignity demanded the first apology, he made none,
only came leisurely in and laid himself upon the sofa with the
singularly relevant remark, "We are going to have a new moon,
"I've no objection," was Meg's equally soothing remark. A few
other topics of general interest were introduced by Mr. Brooke and
wet-blanketed by Mrs. Brooke, and conversation languished. John
went to one window, unfolded his paper, and wrapped himself in it,
figuratively speaking. Meg went to the other window, and sewed as
if new rosettes for slippers were among the necessaries of life.
Neither spoke. Both looked quite 'calm and firm', and both felt
"Oh, dear," thought Meg, "married life is very trying, and
does need infinite patience as well as love, as Mother says." The
word 'Mother' suggested other maternal counsels given long ago, and
received with unbelieving protests.
"John is a good man, but he has his faults, and you must learn to
see and bear with them, remembering your own. He is very decided,
but never will be obstinate, if you reason kindly, not oppose
impatiently. He is very accurate, and particular about the truth--a
good trait, though you call him 'fussy'. Never deceive him by look
or word, Meg, and he will give you the confidence you deserve, the
support you need. He has a temper, not like ours--one flash and then
all over--but the white, still anger that is seldom stirred, but
once kindled is hard to quench. Be careful, be very careful, not to
wake his anger against yourself, for peace and happiness depend on
keeping his respect. Watch yourself, be the first to ask pardon if
you both err, and guard against the little piques,
misunderstandings, and hasty words that often pave the way for
bitter sorrow and regret."
These words came back to Meg, as she sat sewing in the sunset,
especially the last. This was the first serious disagreement, her
own hasty speeches sounded both silly and unkind, as she recalled
them, her own anger looked childish now, and thoughts of poor John
coming home to such a scene quite melted her heart. She glanced at
him with tears in her eyes, but he did not see them. She put down
her work and got up, thinking, "I will be the first to say,
'Forgive me'", but he did not seem to hear her. She went very slowly
across the room, for pride was hard to swallow, and stood by him,
but he did not turn his head. For a minute she felt as if she
really couldn't do it, then came the thought, "This is the beginning.
I'll do my part, and have nothing to reproach myself with,"
and stooping down, she softly kissed her husband on the forehead.
Of course that settled it. The penitent kiss was better than a
world of words, and John had her on his knee in a minute, saying
tenderly . . .
"It was too bad to laugh at the poor little jelly pots.
Forgive me, dear. I never will again!"
But he did, oh bless you, yes, hundreds of times, and so did
Meg, both declaring that it was the sweetest jelly they ever made,
for family peace was preserved in that little family jar.
After this, Meg had Mr. Scott to dinner by special invitation, and
served him up a pleasant feast without a cooked wife for the first
course, on which occasion she was so gay and gracious, and made
everything go off so charmingly, that Mr. Scott told John he was a
lucky fellow, and shook his head over the hardships of bachelorhood
all the way home.
In the autumn, new trials and experiences came to Meg. Sallie
Moffat renewed her friendship, was always running out for a dish of
gossip at the little house, or inviting 'that poor dear' to come in
and spend the day at the big house. It was pleasant, for in dull
weather Meg often felt lonely. All were busy at home, John absent
till night, and nothing to do but sew, or read, or potter about. So
it naturally fell out that Meg got into the way of gadding and
gossiping with her friend. Seeing Sallie's pretty things made her
long for such, and pity herself because she had not got them. Sallie
was very kind, and often offered her the coveted trifles, but Meg
declined them, knowing that John wouldn't like it, and then this
foolish little woman went and did what John disliked even worse.
She knew her husband's income, and she loved to feel that he trusted
her, not only with his happiness, but what some men seem to value
more--his money. She knew where it was, was free to take what she
liked, and all he asked was that she should keep account of every
penny, pay bills once a month, and remember that she was a poor
man's wife. Till now she had done well, been prudent and exact, kept
her little account books neatly, and showed them to him monthly
without fear. But that autumn the serpent got into Meg's paradise,
and tempted her like many a modern Eve, not with apples, but with
dress. Meg didn't like to be pitied and made to feel poor. It
irritated her, but she was ashamed to confess it, and now and then
she tried to console herself by buying something pretty, so that
Sallie needn't think she had to economize. She always felt wicked
after it, for the pretty things were seldom necessaries, but then
they cost so little, it wasn't worth worrying about, so the trifles
increased unconsciously, and in the shopping excursions she was no
longer a passive looker-on.
But the trifles cost more than one would imagine, and when she
cast up her accounts at the end of the month the sum total rather
scared her. John was busy that month and left the bills to her, the
next month he was absent, but the third he had a grand quarterly
settling up, and Meg never forgot it. A few days before she had done
a dreadful thing, and it weighed upon her conscience. Sallie had
been buying silks, and Meg longed for a new one, just a handsome light
one for parties, her black silk was so common, and thin things for
evening wear were only proper for girls. Aunt March usually gave the
sisters a present of twenty-five dollars apiece at New Year's. That
was only a month to wait, and here was a lovely violet silk going at
a bargain, and she had the money, if she only dared to take it. John
always said what was his was hers, but would he think it right to
spend not only the prospective five-and-twenty, but another
five-and-twenty out of the household fund? That was the question.
Sallie had urged her to do it, had offered to lend the money, and with
the best intentions in life had tempted Meg beyond her strength.
In an evil moment the shopman held up the lovely, shimmering folds,
and said, "A bargain, I assure, you, ma'am." She answered, "I'll take
it," and it was cut off and paid for, and Sallie had exulted, and she
had laughed as if it were a thing of no consequence, and driven away,
feeling as if she had stolen something, and the police were after her.
When she got home, she tried to assuage the pangs of remorse
by spreading forth the lovely silk, but it looked less silvery now,
didn't become her, after all, and the words 'fifty dollars' seemed
stamped like a pattern down each breadth. She put it away, but it
haunted her, not delightfully as a new dress should, but dreadfully
like the ghost of a folly that was not easily laid. When John got
out his books that night, Meg's heart sank, and for the first time
in her married life, she was afraid of her husband. The kind, brown
eyes looked as if they could be stern, and though he was unusually
merry, she fancied he had found her out, but didn't mean to let her
know it. The house bills were all paid, the books all in order.
John had praised her, and was undoing the old pocketbook which they
called the 'bank', when Meg, knowing that it was quite empty, stopped
his hand, saying nervously . . .
"You haven't seen my private expense book yet."
John never asked to see it, but she always insisted on his doing so,
and used to enjoy his masculine amazement at the queer things women
wanted, and made him guess what piping was, demand fiercely the
meaning of a hug-me-tight, or wonder how a little thing composed of
three rosebuds, a bit of velvet, and a pair of strings, could
possibly be a bonnet, and cost six dollars. That night he looked as
if he would like the fun of quizzing her figures and pretending to
be horrified at her extravagance, as he often did, being
particularly proud of his prudent wife.
The little book was brought slowly out and laid down before him.
Meg got behind his chair under pretense of smoothing the wrinkles
out of his tired forehead, and standing there, she said, with her
panic increasing with every word . . .
"John, dear, I'm ashamed to show you my book, for I've really
been dreadfully extravagant lately. I go about so much I must have
things, you know, and Sallie advised my getting it, so I did, and
my New Year's money will partly pay for it, but I was sorry after
I had done it, for I knew you'd think it wrong in me."
John laughed, and drew her round beside him, saying goodhumoredly,
"Don't go and hide. I won't beat you if you have got
a pair of killing boots. I'm rather proud of my wife's feet, and
don't mind if she does pay eight or nine dollars for her boots, if
they are good ones."
That had been one of her last 'trifles', and John's eye had
fallen on it as he spoke. "Oh, what will he say when he comes to
that awful fifty dollars!" thought Meg, with a shiver.
"It's worse than boots, it's a silk dress," she said, with the
calmness of desperation, for she wanted the worst over.
"Well, dear, what is the 'dem'd total', as Mr. Mantalini says?"
That didn't sound like John, and she knew he was looking up at
her with the straightforward look that she had always been ready to
meet and answer with one as frank till now. She turned the page and
her head at the same time, pointing to the sum which would have been
bad enough without the fifty, but which was appalling to her with
that added. For a minute the room was very still, then John said
slowly--but she could feel it cost him an effort to express no
displeasure--. . .
"Well, I don't know that fifty is much for a dress, with all the
furbelows and notions you have to have to finish it off these days."
"It isn't made or trimmed," sighed Meg, faintly, for a sudden
recollection of the cost still to be incurred quite overwhelmed her.
"Twenty-five yards of silk seems a good deal to cover one small
woman, but I've no doubt my wife will look as fine as Ned Moffat's
when she gets it on," said John dryly.
"I know you are angry, John, but I can't help it. I don't mean
to waste your money, and I didn't think those little things would
count up so. I can't resist them when I see Sallie buying all she
wants, and pitying me because I don't. I try to be contented, but
it is hard, and I'm tired of being poor."
The last words were spoken so low she thought he did not hear
them, but he did, and they wounded him deeply, for he had denied
himself many pleasures for Meg's sake. She could have bitten her
tongue out the minute she had said it, for John pushed the books
away and got up, saying with a little quiver in his voice, "I was
afraid of this. I do my best, Meg." If he had scolded her, or
even shaken her, it would not have broken her heart like those few
words. She ran to him and held him close, crying, with repentant
tears, "Oh, John, my dear, kind, hard-working boy. I didn't mean
it! It was so wicked, so untrue and ungrateful, how could I say it!
Oh, how could I say it!"
He was very kind, forgave her readily, and did not utter one
reproach, but Meg knew that she had done and said a thing which
would not be forgotten soon, although he might never allude to it
again. She had promised to love him for better or worse, and then
she, his wife, had reproached him with his poverty, after spending
his earnings recklessly. It was dreadful, and the worst of it was
John went on so quietly afterward, just as if nothing had happened,
except that he stayed in town later, and worked at night when she
had gone to cry herself to sleep. A week of remorse nearly made
Meg sick, and the discovery that John had countermanded the order
for his new greatcoat reduced her to a state of despair which was
pathetic to behold. He had simply said, in answer to her surprised
inquiries as to the change, "I can't afford it, my dear."
Meg said no more, but a few minutes after he found her in the
hall with her face buried in the old greatcoat, crying as if her
heart would break.
They had a long talk that night, and Meg learned to love her
husband better for his poverty, because it seemed to have made a
man of him, given him the strength and courage to fight his own way,
and taught him a tender patience with which to bear and comfort
the natural longings and failures of those he loved.
Next day she put her pride in her pocket, went to Sallie, told
the truth, and asked her to buy the silk as a favor. The good-
natured Mrs. Moffat willingly did so, and had the delicacy not to
make her a present of it immediately afterward. Then Meg ordered
home the greatcoat, and when John arrived, she put it on, and asked
him how he liked her new silk gown. One can imagine what answer he
made, how he received his present, and what a blissful state of
things ensued. John came home early, Meg gadded no more, and that
greatcoat was put on in the morning by a very happy husband, and
taken off at night by a most devoted little wife. So the year
rolled round, and at midsummer there came to Meg a new experience,
the deepest and tenderest of a woman's life.
Laurie came sneaking into the kitchen of the Dovecote one
Saturday, with an excited face, and was received with the clash
of cymbals, for Hannah clapped her hands with a saucepan in one
and the cover in the other.
"How's the little mamma? Where is everybody? Why didn't
you tell me before I came home?" began Laurie in a loud whisper.
"Happy as a queen, the dear! Every soul of 'em is upstairs
a worshipin'. We didn't want no hurrycanes round. Now you go
into the parlor, and I'll send 'em down to you," with which
somewhat involved reply Hannah vanished, chuckling ecstatically.
Presently Jo appeared, proudly bearing a flannel bundle laid
forth upon a large pillow. Jo's face was very sober, but her eyes
twinkled, and there was an odd sound in her voice of repressed
emotion of some sort.
"Shut your eyes and hold out your arms," she said invitingly.
Laurie backed precipitately into a corner, and put his hands
behind him with an imploring gesture. "No, thank you. I'd rather
not. I shall drop it or smash it, as sure as fate."
"Then you shan't see your nevvy," said Jo decidedly, turning
as if to go.
"I will, I will! Only you must be responsible for damages."
and obeying orders, Laurie heroically shut his eyes while something
was put into his arms. A peal of laughter from Jo, Amy,
Mrs. March, Hannah, and John caused him to open them the next
minute, to find himself invested with two babies instead of one.
No wonder they laughed, for the expression of his face was
droll enough to convulse a Quaker, as he stood and stared wildly
from the unconscious innocents to the hilarious spectators with
such dismay that Jo sat down on the floor and screamed.
"Twins, by Jupiter!" was all he said for a minute, then
turning to the women with an appealing look that was comically
piteous, he added, "Take 'em quick, somebody! I'm going to
laugh, and I shall drop 'em."
Jo rescued his babies, and marched up and down, with one on each
arm, as if already initiated into the mysteries of babytending,
while Laurie laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks.
"It's the best joke of the season, isn't it? I wouldn't have
told you, for I set my heart on surprising you, and I flatter
myself I've done it," said Jo, when she got her breath.
"I never was more staggered in my life. Isn't it fun? Are they
boys? What are you going to name them? Let's have another look. Hold
me up, Jo, for upon my life it's one too many for me," returned
Laurie, regarding the infants with the air of a big, benevolent
Newfoundland looking at a pair of infantile kittens.
"Boy and girl. Aren't they beauties?" said the proud papa,
beaming upon the little red squirmers as if they were unfledged angels.
"Most remarkable children I ever saw. Which is which?" and
Laurie bent like a well-sweep to examine the prodigies.
"Amy put a blue ribbon on the boy and a pink on the girl,
French fashion, so you can always tell. Besides, one has blue
eyes and one brown. Kiss them, Uncle Teddy," said wicked Jo.
"I'm afraid they mightn't like it," began Laurie, with unusual
timidity in such matters.
"Of course they will, they are used to it now. Do it this
minute, sir!" commanded Jo, fearing he might propose a proxy.
Laurie screwed up his face and obeyed with a gingerly peck
at each little cheek that produced another laugh, and made the
"There, I knew they didn't like it! That's the boy, see
him kick, he hits out with his fists like a good one. Now then,
young Brooke, pitch into a man of your own size, will you?" cried
Laurie, delighted with a poke in the face from a tiny fist, flapping
"He's to be named John Laurence, and the girl Margaret, after
mother and grandmother. We shall call her Daisey, so as not to
have two Megs, and I suppose the mannie will be Jack, unless we
find a better name," said Amy, with aunt-like interest.
"Name him Demijohn, and call him Demi for short," said Laurie
"Daisy and Demi, just the thing! I knew Teddy would do it,"
cried Jo clapping her hands.
Teddy certainly had done it that time, for the babies were
'Daisy' and 'Demi' to the end of the chapter.
"Come, Jo, it's time."
"You don't mean to say you have forgotten that you promised
to make half a dozen calls with me today?"
"I've done a good many rash and foolish things in my life,
but I don't think I ever was mad enough to say I'd make six calls
in one day, when a single one upsets me for a week."
"Yes, you did, it was a bargain between us. I was to finish
the crayon of Beth for you, and you were to go properly with me,
and return our neighbors' visits."
"If it was fair, that was in the bond, and I stand to the
letter of my bond, Shylock. There is a pile of clouds in the east,
it's not fair, and I don't go."
"Now, that's shirking. It's a lovely day, no prospect of rain,
and you pride yourself on keeping promises, so be honorable, come
and do your duty, and then be at peace for another six months."
At that minute Jo was particularly absorbed in dressmaking,
for she was mantua-maker general to the family, and took especial
credit to herself because she could use a needle as well as a pen.
It was very provoking to be arrested in the act of a first trying-on,
and ordered out to make calls in her best array on a warm July day.
She hated calls of the formal sort, and never made any till Amy
compelled her with a bargain, bribe, or promise. In the present
instance there was no escape, and having clashed her scissors
rebelliously, while protesting that she smelled thunder, she gave in,
put away her work, and taking up her hat and gloves with an air of
resignation, told Amy the victim was ready.
"Jo March, you are perverse enough to provoke a saint! You don't
intend to make calls in that state, I hope," cried Amy, surveying
her with amazement.
"Why not? I'm neat and cool and comfortable, quite proper
for a dusty walk on a warm day. If people care more for my
clothes than they do for me, I don't wish to see them. You can
dress for both, and be as elegant as you please. It pays for
you to be fine. It doesn't for me, and furbelows only worry me."
"Oh, dear!" sighed Amy, "now she's in a contrary fit, and
will drive me distracted before I can get her properly ready.
I'm sure it's no pleasure to me to go today, but it's a debt we
owe society, and there's no one to pay it but you and me. I'll
do anything for you, Jo, if you'll only dress yourself nicely,
and come and help me do the civil. You can talk so well, look
so aristocratic in your best things, and behave so beautifully,
if you try, that I'm proud of you. I'm afraid to go alone, do
come and take care of me."
"You're an artful little puss to flatter and wheedle your
cross old sister in that way. The idea of my being aristocratic
and well-bred, and your being afraid to go anywhere alone! I
don't know which is the most absurd. Well, I'll go if I must,
and do my best. You shall be commander of the expedition, and
I'll obey blindly, will that satisfy you?" said Jo, with a sudden
change from perversity to lamblike submission.
"You're a perfect cherub! Now put on all your best things,
and I'll tell you how to behave at each place, so that you will
make a good impression. I want people to like you, and they
would if you'd only try to be a little more agreeable. Do your
hair the pretty way, and put the pink rose in your bonnet. It's
becoming, and you look too sober in your plain suit. Take your
light gloves and the embroidered handkerchief. We'll stop at
Meg's, and borrow her white sunshade, and then you can have my
While Amy dressed, she issued her orders, and Jo obeyed
them, not without entering her protest, however, for she sighed
as she rustled into her new organdie, frowned darkly at herself
as she tied her bonnet strings in an irreproachable bow,
wrestled viciously with pins as she put on her collar,
wrinkled up her features generally as she shook out the handkerchief,
whose embroidery was as irritating to her nose as the present mission
was to her feelings, and when she had squeezed her hands into
tight gloves with three buttons and a tassel, as the last touch
of elegance, she turned to Amy with an imbecile expression of
countenance, saying meekly . . .
"I'm perfectly miserable, but if you consider me presentable,
I die happy."
"You're highly satisfactory. Turn slowly round, and let me get a
careful view." Jo revolved, and Amy gave a touch here and there,
then fell back, with her head on one side, observing graciously,
"Yes, you'll do. Your head is all I could ask, for that white bonnet
with the rose is quite ravishing. Hold back your shoulders, and
carry your hands easily, no matter if your gloves do pinch. There's
one thing you can do well, Jo, that is, wear a shawl. I can't, but
it's very nice to see you, and I'm so glad Aunt March gave you that
lovely one. It's simple, but handsome, and those folds over the arm
are really artistic. Is the point of my mantle in the middle, and
have I looped my dress evenly? I like to show my boots, for my feet
are pretty, though my nose isn't."
"You are a thing of beauty and a joy forever," said Jo, looking
through her hand with the air of a connoisseur at the blue feather
against the golden hair. "Am I to drag my best dress through the
dust, or loop it up, please, ma'am?"
"Hold it up when you walk, but drop it in the house. The
sweeping style suits you best, and you must learn to trail your
skirts gracefully. You haven't half buttoned one cuff, do it at
once. You'll never look finished if you are not careful about the
little details, for they make up the pleasing whole."
Jo sighed, and proceeded to burst the buttons off her glove,
in doing up her cuff, but at last both were ready, and sailed away,
looking as 'pretty as picters', Hannah said, as she hung out of the
upper window to watch them.
"Now, Jo dear, the Chesters consider themselves very elegant
people, so I want you to put on your best deportment. Don't make
any of your abrupt remarks, or do anything odd, will you? Just be
calm, cool, and quiet, that's safe and ladylike, and you can easily
do it for fifteen minutes," said Amy, as they approached the first
place, having borrowed the white parasol and been inspected by Meg,
with a baby on each arm.
"Let me see. 'Calm, cool, and quiet', yes, I think I can
promise that. I've played the part of a prim young lady on the
stage, and I'll try it off. My powers are great, as you shall see,
so be easy in your mind, my child."
Amy looked relieved, but naughty Jo took her at her word, for
during the first call she sat with every limb gracefully
composed, every fold correctly draped, calm as a summer sea, cool
as a snowbank, and as silent as the sphinx. In vain Mrs. Chester
alluded to her 'charming novel', and the Misses Chester
introduced parties, picnics, the opera, and the fashions. Each
and all were answered by a smile, a bow, and a demure "Yes" or
"No" with the chill on. In vain Amy telegraphed the word 'talk',
tried to draw her out, and administered covert pokes with her
foot. Jo sat as if blandly unconscious of it all, with deportment
like Maud's face, 'icily regular, splendidly null'.
"What a haughty, uninteresting creature that oldest Miss March is!"
was the unfortunately audible remark of one of the ladies, as
the door closed upon their guests. Jo laughed noiselessly all
through the hall, but Amy looked disgusted at the failure of her
instructions, and very naturally laid the blame upon Jo.
"How could you mistake me so? I merely meant you to be properly
dignified and composed, and you made yourself a perfect stock and
stone. Try to be sociable at the Lambs'. Gossip as other girls do,
and be interested in dress and flirtations and whatever nonsense
comes up. They move in the best society, are valuable persons for
us to know, and I wouldn't fail to make a good impression there for
"I'll be agreeable. I'll gossip and giggle, and have horrors
and raptures over any trifle you like. I rather enjoy this, and
now I'll imitate what is called 'a charming girl'. I can do it,
for I have May Chester as a model, and I'll improve upon her. See if
the Lambs don't say, 'What a lively, nice creature that Jo March is!"
Amy felt anxious, as well she might, for when Jo turned freakish
there was no knowing where she would stop. Amy's face was a
study when she saw her sister skim into the next drawing room, kiss
all the young ladies with effusion, beam graciously upon the young
gentlemen, and join in the chat with a spirit which amazed the beholder.
Amy was taken possession of by Mrs. Lamb, with whom she
was a favorite, and forced to hear a long account of Lucretia's
last attack, while three delightful young gentlemen hovered near,
waiting for a pause when they might rush in and rescue her. So
situated, she was powerless to check Jo, who seemed possessed by
a spirit of mischief, and talked away as volubly as the lady. A
knot of heads gathered about her, and Amy strained her ears to hear
what was going on, for broken sentences filled her with curiosity,
and frequent peals of laughter made her wild to share the fun. One
may imagine her suffering on overhearing fragments of this sort of
"She rides splendidly. Who taught her?"
"No one. She used to practice mounting, holding the reins, and
sitting straight on an old saddle in a tree. Now she rides anything,
for she doesn't know what fear is, and the stableman lets her have
horses cheap because she trains them to carry ladies so well. She
has such a passion for it, I often tell her if everything else fails,
she can be a horsebreaker, and get her living so."
At this awful speech Amy contained herself with difficulty, for
the impression was being given that she was rather a fast young lady,
which was her especial aversion. But what could she do? For the
old lady was in the middle of her story, and long before it was done,
Jo was off again, making more droll revelations and committing still
more fearful blunders.
"Yes, Amy was in despair that day, for all the good beasts were
gone, and of three left, one was lame, one blind, and the other so
balky that you had to put dirt in his mouth before he would start.
Nice animal for a pleasure party, wasn't it?"
"Which did she choose?" asked one of the laughing gentlemen,
who enjoyed the subject.
"None of them. She heard of a young horse at the farm house
over the river, and though a lady had never ridden him, she resolved
to try, because he was handsome and spirited. Her struggles
were really pathetic. There was no one to bring the horse to the
saddle, so she took the saddle to the horse. My dear creature, she
actually rowed it over the river, put it on her head, and marched
up to the barn to the utter amazement of the old man!"
"Did she ride the horse?"
"Of course she did, and had a capital time. I expected to see
her brought home in fragments, but she managed him perfectly, and
was the life of the party."
"Well, I call that plucky!" and young Mr. Lamb turned an approving
glance upon Amy, wondering what his mother could be saying to make
the girl look so red and uncomfortable.
She was still redder and more uncomfortable a moment after,
when a sudden turn in the conversation introduced the subject of
dress. One of the young ladies asked Jo where she got the pretty
drab hat she wore to the picnic and stupid Jo, instead of mentioning
the place where it was bought two years ago, must needs answer
with unnecessary frankness, "Oh, Amy painted it. You can't buy
those soft shades, so we paint ours any color we like. It's a great
comfort to have an artistic sister."
"Isn't that an original idea?" cried Miss Lamb, who found Jo great fun.
"That's nothing compared to some of her brilliant performances.
There's nothing the child can't do. Why, she wanted a pair of blue
boots for Sallie's party, so she just painted her soiled white ones
the loveliest shade of sky blue you ever saw, and they looked
exactly like satin," added Jo, with an air of pride in her sister's
accomplishments that exasperated Amy till she felt that it would be
a relief to throw her cardcase at her.
"We read a story of yours the other day, and enjoyed it very much,"
observed the elder Miss Lamb, wishing to compliment the literary
lady, who did not look the character just then, it must be confessed.
Any mention of her 'works' always had a bad effect upon Jo,
who either grew rigid and looked offended, or changed the subject
with a brusque remark, as now. "Sorry you could find nothing better
to read. I write that rubbish because it sells, and ordinary people
like it. Are you going to New York this winter?"
As Miss Lamb had 'enjoyed' the story, this speech was not exactly
grateful or complimentary. The minute it was made Jo saw her
mistake, but fearing to make the matter worse, suddenly remembered
that it was for her to make the first move toward departure, and did
so with an abruptness that left three people with half-finished
sentences in their mouths.
"Amy, we must go. Good-by, dear, do come and see us. We are
pining for a visit. I don't dare to ask you, Mr. Lamb, but if you
should come, I don't think I shall have the heart to send you away."
Jo said this with such a droll imitation of May Chester's
gushing style that Amy got out of the room as rapidly as possible,
feeling a strong desire to laugh and cry at the same time.
"Didn't I do well?" asked Jo, with a satisfied air as they walked away.
"Nothing could have been worse," was Amy's crushing reply.
"What possessed you to tell those stories about my saddle, and
the hats and boots, and all the rest of it?"
"Why, it's funny, and amuses people. They know we are poor,
so it's no use pretending that we have grooms, buy three or
four hats a season, and have things as easy and fine as they do."
"You needn't go and tell them all our little shifts, and
expose our poverty in that perfectly unnecessary way. You haven't
a bit of proper pride, and never will learn when to hold your
tongue and when to speak," said Amy despairingly.
Poor Jo looked abashed, and silently chafed the end of her
nose with the stiff handkerchief, as if performing a penance for
"How shall I behave here?" she asked, as they approached the
"Just as you please. I wash my hands of you," was Amy's short
"Then I'll enjoy myself. The boys are at home, and we'll have
a comfortable time. Goodness knows I need a little change, for
elegance has a bad effect upon my constitution," returned Jo gruffly,
being disturbed by her failure to suit.
An enthusiastic welcome from three big boys and several pretty
children speedily soothed her ruffled feelings, and leaving Amy to
entertain the hostess and Mr. Tudor, who happened to be calling
likewise, Jo devoted herself to the young folks and found the
change refreshing. She listened to college stories with deep interest,
caressed pointers and poodles without a murmur, agreed heartily
that "Tom Brown was a brick," regardless of the improper form
of praise, and when one lad proposed a visit to his turtle tank,
she went with an alacrity which caused Mamma to smile upon her,
as that motherly lady settled the cap which was left in a ruinous
condition by filial hugs, bearlike but affectionate, and dearer to
her than the most faultless coiffure from the hands of an inspired
Leaving her sister to her own devices, Amy proceeded to enjoy
herself to her heart's content. Mr. Tudor's uncle had married an
English lady who was third cousin to a living lord, and Amy regarded
the whole family with great respect, for in spite of her American
birth and breeding, she possessed that reverence for titles which
haunts the best of us--that unacknowledged loyalty to the early
faith in kings which set the most democratic nation under the sun
in ferment at the coming of a royal yellow-haired laddie, some years
ago, and which still has something to do with the love the young
country bears the old, like that of a big son for an imperious little
mother, who held him while she could, and let him go with a farewell
scolding when he rebelled. But even the satisfaction of talking with
a distant connection of the British nobility did not render Amy forgetful
of time, and when the proper number of minutes had passed, she
reluctantly tore herself from this aristocratic society, and looked
about for Jo, fervently hoping that her incorrigible sister would not
be found in any position which should bring disgrace upon the name of
It might have been worse, but Amy considered it bad. For Jo
sat on the grass, with an encampment of boys about her, and a
dirty-footed dog reposing on the skirt of her state and festival dress,
as she related one of Laurie's pranks to her admiring audience. One
small child was poking turtles with Amy's cherished parasol, a second
was eating gingerbread over Jo's best bonnet, and a third playing
ball with her gloves, but all were enjoying themselves, and when Jo
collected her damaged property to go, her escort accompanied her,
begging her to come again, "It was such fun to hear about Laurie's
"Capital boys, aren't they? I feel quite young and brisk again
after that." said Jo, strolling along with her hands behind her,
partly from habit, partly to conceal the bespattered parasol.
"Why do you always avoid Mr. Tudor?" asked Amy, wisely refraining
from any comment upon Jo's dilapidated appearance.
"Don't like him, he puts on airs, snubs his sisters, worries
his father, and doesn't speak respectfully of his mother. Laurie
says he is fast, and I don't consider him a desirable acquaintance,
so I let him alone."
"You might treat him civilly, at least. You gave him a cool
nod, and just now you bowed and smiled in the politest way to
Tommy Chamberlain, whose father keeps a grocery store. If you
had just reversed the nod and the bow, it would have been right,"
said Amy reprovingly.
"No, it wouldn't," returned Jo, "I neither like, respect, nor
admire Tudor, though his grandfather's uncle's nephew's niece was
a third cousin to a lord. Tommy is poor and bashful and good and
very clever. I think well of him, and like to show that I do, for
he is a gentleman in spite of the brown paper parcels."
"It's no use trying to argue with you," began Amy.
"Not the least, my dear," interrupted Jo, "so let us look
amiable, and drop a card here, as the Kings are evidently out,
for which I'm deeply grateful."
The family cardcase having done its duty the girls walked
on, and Jo uttered another thanksgiving on reaching the fifth
house, and being told that the young ladies were engaged.
"Now let us go home, and never mind Aunt March today. We
can run down there any time, and it's really a pity to trail
through the dust in our best bibs and tuckers, when we are
tired and cross."
"Speak for yourself, if you please. Aunt March likes to have us
pay her the compliment of coming in style, and making a formal call.
It's a little thing to do, but it gives her pleasure, and I don't
believe it will hurt your things half so much as letting dirty dogs
and clumping boys spoil them. Stoop down, and let me take the
crumbs off of your bonnet."
"What a good girl you are, Amy!" said Jo, with a repentant
glance from her own damaged costume to that of her sister, which
was fresh and spotless still. "I wish it was as easy for me to do
little things to please people as it is for you. I think of them,
but it takes too much time to do them, so I wait for a chance to
confer a great favor, and let the small ones slip, but they tell
best in the end, I fancy."
Amy smiled and was mollified at once, saying with a maternal
air, "Women should learn to be agreeable, particularly poor ones,
for they have no other way of repaying the kindnesses they receive.
If you'd remember that, and practice it, you'd be better liked
than I am, because there is more of you."
"I'm a crotchety old thing, and always shall be, but I'm
willing to own that you are right, only it's easier for me to
risk my life for a person than to be pleasant to him when I don't
feel like it. It's a great misfortune to have such strong likes
and dislikes, isn't it?"
"It's a greater not to be able to hide them. I don't mind
saying that I don't approve of Tudor any more than you do, but I'm
not called upon to tell him so. Neither are you, and there is no
use in making yourself disagreeable because he is."
"But I think girls ought to show when they disapprove of
young men, and how can they do it except by their manners?
Preaching does not do any good, as I know to my sorrow, since I've
had Teddie to manage. But there are many little ways in which I can
influence him without a word, and I say we ought to do it to others
if we can."
"Teddy is a remarkable boy, and can't be taken as a sample
of other boys," said Amy, in a tone of solemn conviction, which
would have convulsed the 'remarkable boy' if he had heard it. "If
we were belles, or women of wealth and position, we might do something,
perhaps, but for us to frown at one set of young gentlemen because
we don't approve of them, and smile upon another set because
we do, wouldn't have a particle of effect, and we should
only be considered odd and puritanical."
"So we are to countenance things and people which we detest,
merely because we are not belles and millionaires, are we?
That's a nice sort of morality."
"I can't argue about it, I only know that it's the way of
the world, and people who set themselves against it only get
laughed at for their pains. I don't like reformers, and I hope
you never try to be one."
"I do like them, and I shall be one if I can, for in spite of
the laughing the world would never get on without them. We can't
agree about that, for you belong to the old set, and I to the new.
You will get on the best, but I shall have the liveliest time of it.
I should rather enjoy the brickbats and hooting, I think."
"Well, compose yourself now, and don't worry Aunt with your
"I'll try not to, but I'm always possessed to burst out with
some particularly blunt speech or revolutionary sentiment before
her. It's my doom, and I can't help it."
They found Aunt Carrol with the old lady, both absorbed in
some very interesting subject, but they dropped it as the girls
came in, with a conscious look which betrayed that they had been
talking about their nieces. Jo was not in a good humor, and the
perverse fit returned, but Amy, who had virtuously done her duty,
kept her temper and pleased everybody, was in a most angelic frame
of mind. This amiable spirit was felt at once, and both aunts 'my
deared' her affectionately, looking what they afterward said
emphatically, "That child improves every day."
"Are you going to help about the fair, dear?" asked Mrs. Carrol,
as Amy sat down beside her with the confiding air elderly people like
so well in the young.
"Yes, Aunt. Mrs. Chester asked me if I would, and I offered to
tend a table, as I have nothing but my time to give."
"I'm not," put in Jo decidedly. "I hate to be patronized, and
the Chesters think it's a great favor to allow us to help with their
highly connected fair. I wonder you consented, Amy, they only want
you to work."
"I am willing to work. It's for the freedmen as well as the
Chesters, and I think it very kind of them to let me share the
labor and the fun. Patronage does not trouble me when it is well
"Quite right and proper. I like your grateful spirit, my dear.
It's a pleasure to help people who appreciate our efforts. Some do
not, and that is trying," observed Aunt March, looking over her
spectacles at Jo, who sat apart, rocking herself, with a somewhat
If Jo had only known what a great happiness was wavering in
the balance for one of them, she would have turned dove-like in a
minute, but unfortunately, we don't have windows in our breasts,
and cannot see what goes on in the minds of our friends. Better
for us that we cannot as a general thing, but now and then it
would be such a comfort, such a saving of time and temper. By her
next speech, Jo deprived herself of several years of pleasure, and
received a timely lesson in the art of holding her tongue.
"I don't like favors, they oppress and make me feel like a
slave. I'd rather do everything for myself, and be perfectly
"Ahem!" coughed Aunt Carrol softly, with a look at Aunt March.
"I told you so," said Aunt March, with a decided nod to Aunt Carrol.
Mercifully unconscious of what she had done, Jo sat with her nose in
the air, and a revolutionary aspect which was anything but inviting.
"Do you speak French, dear?" asked Mrs. Carrol, laying a hand on Amy's.
"Pretty well, thanks to Aunt March, who lets Esther talk to
me as often as I like," replied Amy, with a grateful look, which
caused the old lady to smile affably.
"How are you about languages?" asked Mrs. Carrol of Jo.
"Don't know a word. I'm very stupid about studying anything,
can't bear French, it's such a slippery, silly sort of language,"
was the brusque reply.
Another look passed between the ladies, and Aunt March said
to Amy, "You are quite strong and well now, dear, I believe? Eyes
don't trouble you any more, do they?"
"Not at all, thank you, ma'am. I'm very well, and mean to do
great things next winter, so that I may be ready for Rome, whenever
that joyful time arrives."
"Good girl! You deserve to go, and I'm sure you will some
day," said Aunt March, with an approving pat on the head, as Amy
picked up her ball for her.
Crosspatch, draw the latch,
Sit by the fire and spin,
squalled Polly, bending down from his perch on the back of her
chair to peep into Jo's face, with such a comical air of impertinent
inquiry that it was impossible to help laughing.
"Most observing bird," said the old lady.
"Come and take a walk, my dear?" cried Polly, hopping toward
the china closet, with a look suggestive of a lump of sugar.
"Thank you, I will. Come Amy." and Jo brought the visit to
an end, feeling more strongly than ever that calls did have a bad
effect upon her constitution. She shook hands in a gentlemanly
manner, but Amy kissed both the aunts, and the girls departed,
leaving behind them the impression of shadow and sunshine, which
impression caused Aunt March to say, as they vanished . . .
"You'd better do it, Mary. I'll supply the money." and Aunt
Carrol to reply decidedly, "I certainly will, if her father and
Mrs. Chester's fair was so very elegant and select that it was
considered a great honor by the young ladies of the neighborhood to
be invited to take a table, and everyone was much interested in the
matter. Amy was asked, but Jo was not, which was fortunate for all
parties, as her elbows were decidedly akimbo at this period of her
life, and it took a good many hard knocks to teach her how to get on
easily. The 'haughty, uninteresting creature' was let severely
alone, but Amy's talent and taste were duly complimented by the
offer of the art table, and she exerted herself to prepare and
secure appropriate and valuable contributions to it.
Everything went on smoothly till the day before the fair
opened, then there occurred one of the little skirmishes which
it is almost impossible to avoid, when some five-and-twenty
women, old and young, with all their private piques and prejudices,
try to work together.
May Chester was rather jealous of Amy because the latter was a
greater favorite than herself, and just at this time several
trifling circumstances occurred to increase the feeling. Amy's
dainty pen-and-ink work entirely eclipsed May's painted vases--that
was one thorn. Then the all conquering Tudor had danced four times
with Amy at a late party and only once with May--that was thorn
number two. But the chief grievance that rankled in her soul, and
gave an excuse for her unfriendly conduct, was a rumor which some
obliging gossip had whispered to her, that the March girls had made
fun of her at the Lambs'. All the blame of this should have fallen
upon Jo, for her naughty imitation had been too lifelike to escape
detection, and the frolicsome Lambs had permitted the joke to
escape. No hint of this had reached the culprits, however, and Amy's
dismay can be imagined, when, the very evening before the fair, as
she was putting the last touches to her pretty table, Mrs. Chester,
who, of course, resented the supposed ridicule of her daughter,
said, in a bland tone, but with a cold look . . .
"I find, dear, that there is some feeling among the young
ladies about my giving this table to anyone but my girls. As
this is the most prominent, and some say the most attractive
table of all, and they are the chief getters-up of the fair, it
is thought best for them to take this place. I'm sorry, but I
know you are too sincerely interested in the cause to mind a
little personal disappointment, and you shall have another table
if you like."
Mrs. Chester fancied beforehand that it would be easy to
deliver this little speech, but when the time came, she found
it rather difficult to utter it naturally, with Amy's unsuspicious
eyes looking straight at her full of surprise and trouble.
Amy felt that there was something behind this, but could
not guess what, and said quietly, feeling hurt, and showing that
she did, "Perhaps you had rather I took no table at all?"
"Now, my dear, don't have any ill feeling, I beg. It's merely a
matter of expediency, you see, my girls will naturally take the
lead, and this table is considered their proper place. I think it
very appropriate to you, and feel very grateful for your efforts to
make it so pretty, but we must give up our private wishes, of
course, and I will see that you have a good place elsewhere.
Wouldn't you like the flower table? The little girls undertook it,
but they are discouraged. You could make a charming thing of it, and
the flower table is always attractive you know."
"Especially to gentlemen," added May, with a look which enlightened
Amy as to one cause of her sudden fall from favor. She colored
angrily, but took no other notice of that girlish sarcasm,
and answered with unexpected amiability . . .
"It shall be as you please, Mrs. Chester. I'll give up my
place here at once, and attend to the flowers, if you like."
"You can put your own things on your own table, if you prefer,"
began May, feeling a little conscience-stricken, as she looked at
the pretty racks, the painted shells, and quaint illuminations Amy
had so carefully made and so gracefully arranged. She meant it
kindly, but Amy mistook her meaning, and said quickly . . .
"Oh, certainly, if they are in your way," and sweeping her
contributions into her apron, pell-mell, she walked off, feeling
that herself and her works of art had been insulted past forgiveness.
"Now she's mad. Oh, dear, I wish I hadn't asked you to speak, Mama,"
said May, looking disconsolately at the empty spaces on her table.
"Girls' quarrels are soon over," returned her mother, feeling
a trifle ashamed of her own part in this one, as well she might.
The little girls hailed Amy and her treasures with delight,
which cordial reception somewhat soothed her perturbed spirit, and
she fell to work, determined to succeed florally, if she could not
artistically. But everything seemed against her. It was late, and
she was tired. Everyone was too busy with their own affairs to help
her, and the little girls were only hindrances, for the dears fussed
and chattered like so many magpies, making a great deal of confusion
in their artless efforts to preserve the most perfect order. The
evergreen arch wouldn't stay firm after she got it up, but wiggled
and threatened to tumble down on her head when the hanging baskets
were filled. Her best tile got a splash of water, which left a sepia
tear on the Cupid's cheek. She bruised her hands with hammering, and
got cold working in a draft, which last affliction filled her with
apprehensions for the morrow. Any girl reader who has suffered like
afflictions will sympathize with poor Amy and wish her well through
There was great indignation at home when she told her story
that evening. Her mother said it was a shame, but told her she
had done right. Beth declared she wouldn't go to the fair at all,
and Jo demanded why she didn't take all her pretty things and leave
those mean people to get on without her.
"Because they are mean is no reason why I should be. I hate
such things, and though I think I've a right to be hurt, I don't
intend to show it. They will feel that more than angry speeches
or huffy actions, won't they, Marmee?"
"That's the right spirit, my dear. A kiss for a blow is always
best, though it's not very easy to give it sometimes," said her
mother, with the air of one who had learned the difference between
preaching and practicing.
In spite of various very natural temptations to resent and
retaliate, Amy adhered to her resolution all the next day, bent
on conquering her enemy by kindness. She began well, thanks to a
silent reminder that came to her unexpectedly, but most opportunely.
As she arranged her table that morning, while the little girls were
in the anteroom filling the baskets, she took up her pet production,
a little book, the antique cover of which her father had found among
his treasures, and in which on leaves of vellum she had beautifully
illuminated different texts. As she turned the pages rich in dainty
devices with very pardonable pride, her eye fell upon one verse that
made her stop and think. Framed in a brilliant scrollwork of scarlet,
blue and gold, with little spirits of good will helping one another
up and down among the thorns and flowers, were the words, "Thou shalt
love thy neighbor as thyself."
"I ought, but I don't," thought Amy, as her eye went from the
bright page to May's discontented face behind the big vases, that
could not hide the vacancies her pretty work had once filled. Amy
stood a minute, turning the leaves in her hand, reading on each some
sweet rebuke for all heartburnings and uncharitableness of spirit.
Many wise and true sermons are preached us every day by unconscious
ministers in street, school, office, or home. Even a fair table
may become a pulpit, if it can offer the good and helpful words
which are never out of season. Amy's conscience preached her a
little sermon from that text, then and there, and she did what many
of us do not always do, took the sermon to heart, and straightway
put it in practice.
A group of girls were standing about May's table, admiring
the pretty things, and talking over the change of saleswomen. They
dropped their voices, but Amy knew they were speaking of her, hearing
one side of the story and judging accordingly. It was not pleasant,
but a better spirit had come over her, and presently a chance
offered for proving it. She heard May say sorrowfully . . .
"It's too bad, for there is no time to make other things, and
I don't want to fill up with odds and ends. The table was just
complete then. Now it's spoiled."
"I dare say she'd put them back if you asked her," suggested
"How could I after all the fuss?" began May, but she did not
finish, for Amy's voice came across the hall, saying pleasantly . . .
"You may have them, and welcome, without asking, if you want
them. I was just thinking I'd offer to put them back, for they
belong to your table rather than mine. Here they are, please take
them, and forgive me if I was hasty in carrying them away last night."
As she spoke, Amy returned her contribution, with a nod and a
smile, and hurried away again, feeling that it was easier to do a
friendly thing than it was to stay and be thanked for it.
"Now, I call that lovely of her, don't you?" cried one girl.
May's answer was inaudible, but another young lady, whose
temper was evidently a little soured by making lemonade, added,
with a disagreeable laugh, "Very lovely, for she knew she wouldn't
sell them at her own table."
Now, that was hard. When we make little sacrifices we like
to have them appreciated, at least, and for a minute Amy was sorry
she had done it, feeling that virtue was not always its own reward.
But it is, as she presently discovered, for her spirits began to
rise, and her table to blossom under her skillful hands, the girls
were very kind, and that one little act seemed to have cleared the
It was a very long day and a hard one for Amy, as she sat behind
her table, often quite alone, for the little girls deserted
very soon. Few cared to buy flowers in summer, and her bouquets
began to droop long before night.
The art table was the most attractive in the room. There was
a crowd about it all day long, and the tenders were constantly flying
to and fro with important faces and rattling money boxes. Amy
often looked wistfully across, longing to be there, where she felt
at home and happy, instead of in a corner with nothing to do. It
might seem no hardship to some of us, but to a pretty, blithe young
girl, it was not only tedious, but very trying, and the thought of
Laurie and his friends made it a real martyrdom.
She did not go home till night, and then she looked so pale
and quiet that they knew the day had been a hard one, though she
made no complaint, and did not even tell what she had done. Her
mother gave her an extra cordial cup of tea. Beth helped her dress,
and made a charming little wreath for her hair, while Jo astonished
her family by getting herself up with unusual care, and hinting
darkly that the tables were about to be turned.
"Don't do anything rude, pray Jo; I won't have any fuss made,
so let it all pass and behave yourself," begged Amy, as she departed
early, hoping to find a reinforcement of flowers to refresh her poor
"I merely intend to make myself entrancingly agreeable to every
one I know, and to keep them in your corner as long as possible.
Teddy and his boys will lend a hand, and we'll have a good time yet."
returned Jo, leaning over the gate to watch for Laurie. Presently
the familiar tramp was heard in the dusk, and she ran out to meet him.
"Is that my boy?"
"As sure as this is my girl!" and Laurie tucked her hand under
his arm with the air of a man whose every wish was gratified.
"Oh, Teddy, such doings!" and Jo told Amy's wrongs with sisterly zeal.
"A flock of our fellows are going to drive over by-and-by, and
I'll be hanged if I don't make them buy every flower she's got, and
camp down before her table afterward," said Laurie, espousing her
cause with warmth.
"The flowers are not at all nice, Amy says, and the fresh ones
may not arrive in time. I don't wish to be unjust or suspicious, but
I shouldn't wonder if they never came at all. When people do one
mean thing they are very likely to do another," observed Jo in a
"Didn't Hayes give you the best out of our gardens? I told him to."
"I didn't know that, he forgot, I suppose, and, as your grandpa was
poorly, I didn't like to worry him by asking, though I did want some."
"Now, Jo, how could you think there was any need of asking?
They are just as much yours as mine. Don't we always go halves
in everything?" began Laurie, in the tone that always made Jo
"Gracious, I hope not! Half of some of your things wouldn't
suit me at all. But we mustn't stand philandering here. I've got
to help Amy, so you go and make yourself splendid, and if you'll
be so very kind as to let Hayes take a few nice flowers up to the
Hall, I'll bless you forever."
"Couldn't you do it now?" asked Laurie, so suggestively that
Jo shut the gate in his face with inhospitable haste, and called
through the bars, "Go away, Teddy, I'm busy."
Thanks to the conspirators, the tables were turned that night,
for Hayes sent up a wilderness of flowers, with a loverly basket
arranged in his best manner for a centerpiece. Then the March family
turned out en masse, and Jo exerted herself to some purpose, for
people not only came, but stayed, laughing at her nonsense, admiring
Amy's taste, and apparently enjoying themselves very much. Laurie
and his friends gallantly threw themselves into the breach, bought
up the bouquets, encamped before the table, and made that corner
the liveliest spot in the room. Amy was in her element now, and out
of gratitude, if nothing more, was as spritely and gracious as possible,
coming to the conclusion, about that time, that virtue was
it's own reward, after all.
Jo behaved herself with exemplary propriety, and when Amy was
happily surrounded by her guard of honor, Jo circulated about the
Hall, picking up various bits of gossip, which enlightened her upon
the subject of the Chester change of base. She reproached herself
for her share of the ill feeling and resolved to exonerate Amy as
soon as possible. She also discovered what Amy had done about the
things in the morning, and considered her a model of magnanimity. As
she passed the art table, she glanced over it for her sister's
things, but saw no sign of them. "Tucked away out of sight, I dare
say," thought Jo, who could forgive her own wrongs, but hotly resented
any insult offered her family.
"Good evening, Miss Jo. How does Amy get on?" asked May with
a conciliatory air, for she wanted to show that she also could be
"She has sold everything she had that was worth selling, and now she
is enjoying herself. The flower table is always attractive, you
know, 'especially to gentlemen'." Jo couldn't resist giving that
little slap, but May took it so meekly she regretted it a minute
after, and fell to praising the great vases, which still remained
"Is Amy's illumination anywhere about? I took a fancy to
buy that for Father," said Jo, very anxious to learn the fate of
her sister's work.
"Everything of Amy's sold long ago. I took care that the
right people saw them, and they made a nice little sum of money
for us," returned May, who had overcome sundry small temptations,
as well as Amy had, that day.
Much gratified, Jo rushed back to tell the good news, and
Amy looked both touched and surprised by the report of May's
word and manner.
"Now, gentlemen, I want you to go and do your duty by the
other tables as generously as you have by mine, especially the
art table," she said, ordering out 'Teddy's own', as the girls
called the college friends.
"'Charge, Chester, charge!' is the motto for that table, but
do your duty like men, and you'll get your money's worth of art
in every sense of the word," said the irrepressible Jo, as the
devoted phalanx prepared to take the field.
"To hear is to obey, but March is fairer far than May," said
little Parker, making a frantic effort to be both witty and tender,
and getting promptly quenched by Laurie, who said . . .
"Very well, my son, for a small boy!" and walked him off, with
a paternal pat on the head.
"Buy the vases," whispered Amy to Laurie, as a final heaping
of coals of fire on her enemy's head.
To May's great delight, Mr. Laurence not only bought the vases,
but pervaded the hall with one under each arm. The other gentlemen
speculated with equal rashness in all sorts of frail trifles, and
wandered helplessly about afterward, burdened with wax flowers,
painted fans, filigree portfolios, and other useful and appropriate
Aunt Carrol was there, heard the story, looked pleased, and
said something to Mrs. March in a corner, which made the latter
lady beam with satisfaction, and watch Amy with a face full of
mingled pride and anxiety, though she did not betray the cause
of her pleasure till several days later.
The fair was pronounced a success, and when May bade Amy
goodnight, she did not gush as usual, but gave her an affectionate
kiss, and a look which said 'forgive and forget'. That satisfied
Amy, and when she got home she found the vases paraded on
the parlor chimney piece with a great bouquet in each. "The
reward of merit for a magnanimous March," as Laurie announced
with a flourish.
"You've a deal more principle and generosity and nobleness
of character than I ever gave you credit for, Amy. You've behaved
sweetly, and I respect you with all my heart," said Jo
warmly, as they brushed their hair together late that night.
"Yes, we all do, and love her for being so ready to forgive. It must
have been dreadfully hard, after working so long and setting your
heart on selling your own pretty things. I don't believe I could
have done it as kindly as you did," added Beth from her pillow.
"Why, girls, you needn't praise me so. I only did as I'd
be done by. You laugh at me when I say I want to be a lady, but
I mean a true gentlewoman in mind and manners, and I try to do
it as far as I know how. I can't explain exactly, but I want to
be above the little meannesses and follies and faults that spoil
so many women. I'm far from it now, but I do my best, and hope in
time to be what Mother is."
Amy spoke earnestly, and Jo said, with a cordial hug, "I
understand now what you mean, and I'll never laugh at you again.
You are getting on faster than you think, and I'll take lessons
of you in true politeness, for you've learned the secret, I believe.
Try away, deary, you'll get your reward some day, and
no one will be more delighted than I shall."
A week later Amy did get her reward, and poor Jo found it
hard to be delighted. A letter came from Aunt Carrol, and Mrs.
March's face was illuminated to such a degree when she read it
that Jo and Beth, who were with her, demanded what the glad
"Aunt Carrol is going abroad next month, and wants . . ."
"Me to go with her!" burst in Jo, flying out of her chair
in an uncontrollable rapture.
"No, dear, not you. It's Amy."
"Oh, Mother! She's too young, it's my turn first. I've
wanted it so long. It would do me so much good, and be so altogether
splendid. I must go!"
"I'm afraid it's impossible, Jo. Aunt says Amy, decidedly,
and it is not for us to dictate when she offers such a favor."
"It's always so. Amy has all the fun and I have all the work.
It isn't fair, oh, it isn't fair!" cried Jo passionately.
"I'm afraid it's partly your own fault, dear. When Aunt spoke
to me the other day, she regretted your blunt manners and too
independent spirit, and here she writes, as if quoting something you
had said--'I planned at first to ask Jo, but as 'favors burden her',
and she 'hates French', I think I won't venture to invite her. Amy
is more docile, will make a good companion for Flo, and receive
gratefully any help the trip may give her."
"Oh, my tongue, my abominable tongue! Why can't I learn to
keep it quiet?" groaned Jo, remembering words which had been
her undoing. When she had heard the explanation of the quoted
phrases, Mrs. March said sorrowfully . . .
"I wish you could have gone, but there is no hope of it this
time, so try to bear it cheerfully, and don't sadden Amy's pleasure
by reproaches or regrets."
"I'll try," said Jo, winking hard as she knelt down to pick
up the basket she had joyfully upset. "I'll take a leaf out of
her book, and try not only to seem glad, but to be so, and not
grudge her one minute of happiness. But it won't be easy, for
it is a dreadful disappointment," and poor Jo bedewed the little
fat pincushion she held with several very bitter tears.
"Jo, dear, I'm very selfish, but I couldn't spare you, and
I'm glad you are not going quite yet," whispered Beth, embracing
her, basket and all, with such a clinging touch and loving face
that Jo felt comforted in spite of the sharp regret that made her
want to box her own ears, and humbly beg Aunt Carrol to burden
her with this favor, and see how gratefully she would bear it.
By the time Amy came in, Jo was able to take her part in
the family jubilation, not quite as heartily as usual, perhaps,
but without repinings at Amy's good fortune. The young lady
herself received the news as tidings of great joy, went about
in a solemn sort of rapture, and began to sort her colors and
pack her pencils that evening, leaving such trifles as clothes,
money, and passports to those less absorbed in visions of art
"It isn't a mere pleasure trip to me, girls," she said impressively,
as she scraped her best palette. "It will decide my career,
for if I have any genius, I shall find it out in Rome,
and will do something to prove it."
"Suppose you haven't?" said Jo, sewing away, with red eyes,
at the new collars which were to be handed over to Amy.
"Then I shall come home and teach drawing for my living,"
replied the aspirant for fame, with philosophic composure.
But she made a wry face at the prospect, and scratched away
at her palette as if bent on vigorous measures before she
gave up her hopes.
"No, you won't. You hate hard work, and you'll marry some
rich man, and come home to sit in the lap of luxury all your
days," said Jo.
"Your predictions sometimes come to pass, but I don't believe
that one will. I'm sure I wish it would, for if I can't be
an artist myself, I should like to be able to help those who are,"
said Amy, smiling, as if the part of Lady Bountiful would suit
her better than that of a poor drawing teacher.
"Hum!" said Jo, with a sigh. "If you wish it you'll have it,
for your wishes are always granted--mine never."
"Would you like to go?" asked Amy, thoughtfully patting her
nose with her knife.
"Well, in a year or two I'll send for you, and we'll dig in
the Forum for relics, and carry out all the plans we've made so
"Thank you. I'll remind you of your promise when that joyful
day comes, if it ever does," returned Jo, accepting the vague but
magnificent offer as gratefully as she could.
There was not much time for preparation, and the house was
in a ferment till Amy was off. Jo bore up very well till the
last flutter of blue ribbon vanished, when she retired to her
refuge, the garret, and cried till she couldn't cry any more.
Amy likewise bore up stoutly till the steamer sailed. Then
just as the gangway was about to be withdrawn, it suddenly came
over her that a whole ocean was soon to roll between her and
those who loved her best, and she clung to Laurie, the last
lingerer, saying with a sob . . .
"Oh, take care of them for me, and if anything should
happen . . ."
"I will, dear, I will, and if anything happens, I'll come
and comfort you," whispered Laurie, little dreaming that he would
be called upon to keep his word.
So Amy sailed away to find the Old World, which is always
new and beautiful to young eyes, while her father and friend
watched her from the shore, fervently hoping that none but gentle
fortunes would befall the happy-hearted girl, who waved her hand
to them till they could see nothing but the summer sunshine dazzling
on the sea.
OUR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT
Here I really sit at a front window of the Bath Hotel,
Piccadilly. It's not a fashionable place, but Uncle stopped
here years ago, and won't go anywhere else. However, we don't
mean to stay long, so it's no great matter. Oh, I can't begin
to tell you how I enjoy it all! I never can, so I'll only give
you bits out of my notebook, for I've done nothing but sketch
and scribble since I started.
I sent a line from Halifax, when I felt pretty miserable,
but after that I got on delightfully, seldom ill, on deck all
day, with plenty of pleasant people to amuse me. Everyone was
very kind to me, especially the officers. Don't laugh, Jo,
gentlemen really are very necessary aboard ship, to hold on to,
or to wait upon one, and as they have nothing to do, it's a mercy
to make them useful, otherwise they would smoke themselves to death,
Aunt and Flo were poorly all the way, and liked to be let
alone, so when I had done what I could for them, I went and
enjoyed myself. Such walks on deck, such sunsets, such splendid
air and waves! It was almost as exciting as riding a fast horse,
when we went rushing on so grandly. I wish Beth could have come,
it would have done her so much good. As for Jo, she would have
gone up and sat on the maintop jib, or whatever the high thing
is called, made friends with the engineers, and tooted on the
captain's speaking trumpet, she'd have been in such a state of
It was all heavenly, but I was glad to see the Irish coast,
and found it very lovely, so green and sunny, with brown cabins
here and there, ruins on some of the hills, and gentlemen's
countryseats in the valleys, with deer feeding in the parks.
It was early in the morning, but I didn't regret getting up to
see it, for the bay was full of little boats, the shore so picturesque,
and a rosy sky overhead. I never shall forget it.
At Queenstown one of my new acquaintances left us, Mr.
Lennox, and when I said something about the Lakes of Killarney,
he sighed, and sung, with a look at me . . .
"Oh, have you e'er heard of Kate Kearney?
She lives on the banks of Killarney;
From the glance of her eye,
Shun danger and fly,
For fatal's the glance of Kate Kearney."
Wasn't that nonsensical?
We only stopped at Liverpool a few hours. It's a dirty,
noisy place, and I was glad to leave it. Uncle rushed out and
bought a pair of dogskin gloves, some ugly, thick shoes, and an
umbrella, and got shaved _'a la_ mutton chop, the first thing.
Then he flattered himself that he looked like a true Briton,
but the first time he had the mud cleaned off his shoes, the
little bootblack knew that an American stood in them, and said,
with a grin, "There yer har, sir. I've given 'em the latest
Yankee shine." It amused Uncle immensely. Oh, I must tell you
what that absurd Lennox did! He got his friend Ward, who came
on with us, to order a bouquet for me, and the first thing I
saw in my room was a lovely one, with "Robert Lennox's compliments,"
on the card. Wasn't that fun, girls? I like traveling.
I never shall get to London if I don't hurry. The trip was
like riding through a long picture gallery, full of lovely landscapes.
The farmhouses were my delight, with thatched roofs,
ivy up to the eaves, latticed windows, and stout women with rosy
children at the doors. The very cattle looked more tranquil
than ours, as they stood knee-deep in clover, and the hens had
a contented cluck, as if they never got nervous like Yankee
biddies. Such perfect color I never saw, the grass so green, sky
so blue, grain so yellow, woods so dark, I was in a rapture all
the way. So was Flo, and we kept bouncing from one side to the
other, trying to see everything while we were whisking along at
the rate of sixty miles an hour. Aunt was tired and went to sleep,
but Uncle read his guidebook, and wouldn't be astonished at anything.
This is the way we went on. Amy, flying up--"Oh, that
must be Kenilworth, that gray place among the trees!" Flo, darting
to my window--"How sweet! We must go there sometime, won't we
Papa?" Uncle, calmly admiring his boots--"No, my dear, not unless
you want beer, that's a brewery."
A pause--then Flo cried out, "Bless me, there's a gallows and
a man going up." "Where, where?" shrieks Amy, staring out at two
tall posts with a crossbeam and some dangling chains. "A colliery,"
remarks Uncle, with a twinkle of the eye. "Here's a lovely flock
of lambs all lying down," says Amy. "See, Papa, aren't they
pretty?" added Flo sentimentally. "Geese, young ladies," returns
Uncle, in a tone that keeps us quiet till Flo settles down to
enjoy the _Flirtations of Captain Cavendish_, and I have the scenery
all to myself.
Of course it rained when we got to London, and there was
nothing to be seen but fog and umbrellas. We rested, unpacked,
and shopped a little between the showers. Aunt Mary got me some
new things, for I came off in such a hurry I wasn't half ready.
A white hat and blue feather, a muslin dress to match, and the
loveliest mantle you ever saw. Shopping in Regent Street is
perfectly splendid. Things seem so cheap, nice ribbons only
sixpence a yard. I laid in a stock, but shall get my gloves
in Paris. Doesn't that sound sort of elegant and rich?
Flo and I, for the fun of it, ordered a hansom cab, while
Aunt and Uncle were out, and went for a drive, though we learned
afterward that it wasn't the thing for young ladies to ride in
them alone. It was so droll! For when we were shut in by the
wooden apron, the man drove so fast that Flo was frightened, and
told me to stop him, but he was up outside behind somewhere,
and I couldn't get at him. He didn't hear me call, nor see me
flap my parasol in front, and there we were, quite helpless,
rattling away, and whirling around corners at a breakneck pace.
At last, in my despair, I saw a little door in the roof, and on
poking it open, a red eye appeared, and a beery voice said . . .
"Now, then, mum?"
I gave my order as soberly as I could, and slamming down
the door, with an "Aye, aye, mum," the man made his horse walk,
as if going to a funeral. I poked again and said, "A little
faster," then off he went, helter-skelter as before, and we
resigned ourselves to our fate.
Today was fair, and we went to Hyde Park, close by, for we
are more aristocratic than we look. The Duke of Devonshire lives
near. I often see his footmen lounging at the back gate, and
the Duke of Wellington's house is not far off. Such sights as I
saw, my dear! It was as good as Punch, for there were fat dowagers
rolling about in their red and yellow coaches, with gorgeous
Jeameses in silk stockings and velvet coats, up behind, and powdered
coachmen in front. Smart maids, with the rosiest children
I ever saw, handsome girls, looking half asleep, dandies in queer
English hats and lavender kids lounging about, and tall soldiers,
in short red jackets and muffin caps stuck on one side, looking
so funny I longed to sketch them.
Rotten Row means 'Route de Roi', or the king's way, but
now it's more like a riding school than anything else. The
horses are splendid, and the men, especially the grooms, ride
well, but the women are stiff, and bounce, which isn't according
to our rules. I longed to show them a tearing American
gallop, for they trotted solemnly up and down, in their scant
habits and high hats, looking like the women in a toy Noah's
Ark. Everyone rides--old men, stout ladies, little children--
and the young folks do a deal of flirting here, I saw a pair
exchange rose buds, for it's the thing to wear one in the
button-hole, and I thought it rather a nice little idea.
In the P.M. to Westminster Abbey, but don't expect me to describe
it, that's impossible, so I'll only say it was sublime! This evening
we are going to see Fechter, which will be an appropriate end to the
happiest day of my life.
It's very late, but I can't let my letter go in the morning
without telling you what happened last evening. Who do
you think came in, as we were at tea? Laurie's English friends,
Fred and Frank Vaughn! I was so surprised, for I shouldn't have
Back to Full Books