Little women, p.14
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       Little Women, p.14

         Part #1 of Little Women series by Louisa May Alcott
 

  “Mrs. M. has made her plans, I dare say, and will play her cards well, early as it is. The girl evidently doesn’t think of it yet,” said Mrs. Moffat.

  “She told that fib about her mamma, as if she did know, and colored up when the flowers came quite prettily. Poor thing! She’d be so nice if she was only got up in style. Do you think she’d be offended if we offered to lend her a dress for Thursday?” asked another voice.

  “She’s proud, but I don’t believe she’d mind, for that dowdy tarlatan is all she has got. She may tear it tonight, and that will be a good excuse for offering a decent one.”

  “We’ll see. I shall ask young Laurence, as a compliment to her, and we’ll have fun about it afterward.”

  Here Meg’s partner appeared, to find her looking much flushed and rather agitated. She was proud, and her pride was useful just then, for it helped her hide her mortification, anger, and disgust at what she had just heard; for, innocent and unsuspicious as she was, she could not help understanding the gossip of her friends. She tried to forget it, but could not, and kept repeating to herself, “Mrs. M. has made her plans,” “that fib about her mamma,” and “dowdy tarlatan,” till she was ready to cry and rush home to tell her troubles and ask for advice. As that was impossible, she did her best to seem gay, and being rather excited, she succeeded so well that no one dreamed what an effort she was making. She was very glad when it was all over and she was quiet in her bed, where she could think and wonder and fume till her head ached and her hot cheeks were cooled by a few natural tears. Those foolish, yet well-meant words, had opened a new world to Meg, and much disturbed the peace of the old one in which till now she had lived as happily as a child. Her innocent friendship with Laurie was spoiled by the silly speeches she had overheard; her faith in her mother was a little shaken by the worldly plans attributed to her by Mrs. Moffat, who judged others by herself; and the sensible resolution to be contented with the simple wardrobe which suited a poor man’s daughter was weakened by the unnecessary pity of girls who thought a shabby dress one of the greatest calamities under heaven.

  Poor Meg had a restless night, and got up heavy-eyed, unhappy, half resentful toward her friends, and half ashamed of herself for not speaking out frankly and setting everything right. Everybody dawdled that morning, and it was noon before the girls found energy enough even to take up their worsted work. Something in the manner of her friends struck Meg at once: they treated her with more respect, she thought, took quite a tender interest in what she said, and looked at her with eyes that plainly betrayed curiosity. All this surprised and flattered her, though she did not understand it till Miss Belle looked up from her writing, and said, with a sentimental air—

  “Daisy, dear, I’ve sent an invitation to your friend, Mr. Laurence, for Thursday. We should like to know him, and it’s only a proper compliment to you.”

  Meg colored, but a mischievous fancy to tease the girls made her reply demurely, “You are very kind, but I’m afraid he won’t come.”

  “Why not, chérie?” asked Miss Belle.

  “He’s too old.”

  “My child, what do you mean? What is his age, I beg to know!” cried Miss Clara.

  “Nearly seventy, I believe,” answered Meg, counting stitches to hide the merriment in her eyes.

  “You sly creature! Of course we meant the young man,” exclaimed Miss Belle, laughing.

  “There isn’t any, Laurie is only a little boy.” And Meg laughed also at the queer look which the sisters exchanged as she thus described her supposed lover.

  “About your age,” Nan said.

  “Nearer my sister Jo‘s, I am seventeen in August,” returned Meg, tossing her head.

  “It’s very nice of him to send you flowers, isn’t it?” said Annie, looking wise about nothing.

  “Yes, he often does, to all of us, for their house is full, and we are so fond of them. My mother and old Mr. Laurence are friends, you know, so it is quite natural that we children should play together.” And Meg hoped they would say no more.

  “It’s evident Daisy isn’t out yet,” said Miss Clara to Belle with a nod.

  “Quite a pastoral state of innocence all round,” returned Miss Belle with a shrug.

  “I’m going out to get some little matters for my girls; can I do anything for you, young ladies?” asked Mrs. Moffat, lumbering in like an elephant in silk and lace.

  “No, thank you, ma‘am,” replied Sallie. “I’ve got my new pink silk for Thursday and don’t want a thing.”

  “Nor I—” began Meg, but stopped because it occurred to her that she did want several things and could not have them.

  “What shall you wear?” asked Sallie.

  “My old white one again, if I can mend it fit to be seen; it got sadly torn last night,” said Meg, trying to speak quite easily, but feeling very uncomfortable.

  “Why don’t you send home for another?” said Sallie, who was not an observing young lady.

  “I haven’t got any other.” It cost Meg an effort to say that, but Sallie did not see it and exclaimed in amiable surprise, “Only that? How funny—” She did not finish her speech, for Belle shook her head at her and broke in, saying kindly—

  “Not at all; where is the use of having a lot of dresses when she isn’t out? There’s no need of sending home, Daisy, even if you had a dozen, for I’ve got a sweet blue silk laid away, which I’ve outgrown, and you shall wear it to please me, won’t you, dear?”

  “You are very kind, but I don’t mind my old dress if you don‘t, it does well enough for a little girl like me,” said Meg.

  “Now do let me please myself by dressing you up in style. I admire to do it, and you’d be a regular little beauty with a touch here and there. I shan’t let anyone see you till you are done, and then we’ll burst upon them like Cinderella and her godmother going to the ball,” said Belle in her persuasive tone.

  Meg couldn’t refuse the offer so kindly made, for a desire to see if she would be “a little beauty” after touching up caused her to accept and forget all her former uncomfortable feelings toward the Moffats.

  On the Thursday evening, Belle shut herself up with her maid, and between them they turned Meg into a fine lady. They crimped and curled her hair, they polished her neck and arms with some fragrant powder, touched her lips with coralline salve to make them redder, and Hortense would have added “a soupçonay of rouge,” if Meg had not rebelled. They laced her into a sky-blue dress, which was so tight she could hardly breathe and so low in the neck that modest Meg blushed at herself in the mirror. A set of silver filigree was added, bracelets, necklace, brooch, and even earrings, for Hortense tied them on with a bit of pink silk which did not show. A cluster of tea-rose buds at the bosom and a ruche,az reconciled Meg to the display of her pretty white shoulders, and a pair of high-heeled blue silk boots satisfied the last wish of her heart. A lace handkerchief, a plumy fan, and a bouquet in a silver holder finished her off, and Miss Belle surveyed her with the satisfaction of a little girl with a newly dressed doll.

  “Mademoiselle is charmante, très jolie,ba is she not?” cried Hortense, clasping her hands in an affected rapture.

  “Come and show yourself,” said Miss Belle, leading the way to the room where the others were waiting.

  As Meg went rustling after, with her long skirts trailing, her earrings tinkling, her curls waving, and her heart beating, she felt as if her “fun” had really begun at last, for the mirror had plainly told her that she was “a little beauty.” Her friends repeated the pleasing phrase enthusiastically, and for several minutes she stood, like the jackdaw in the fable,bb enjoying her borrowed plumes, while the rest chattered like a party of magpies.

  “While I dress, do you drill her, Nan, in the management of her skirt and those French heels, or she will trip herself up. Take your silver butterfly, and catch up that long curl on the left side of her head, Clara, and don’t any of you disturb the charming work of my hands,” said Belle, as she hurried away, looking well pl
eased with her success.

  “I’m afraid to go down, I feel so queer and stiff and half-dressed,” said Meg to Sallie, as the bell rang, and Mrs. Moffat sent to ask the young ladies to appear at once.

  “You don’t look a bit like yourself, but you are very nice. I’m nowhere beside you, for Belle has heaps of taste, and you’re quite French, I assure you. Let your flowers hang, don’t be so careful of them, and be sure you don’t trip,” returned Sallie, trying not to care that Meg was prettier than herself.

  Keeping that warning carefully in mind, Margaret got safely downstairs and sailed into the drawing rooms where the Moffats and a few early guests were assembled. She very soon discovered that there is a charm about fine clothes which attracts a certain class of people and secures their respect. Several young ladies, who had taken no notice of her before, were very affectionate all of a sudden; several young gentlemen, who had only stared at her at the other party, now not only stared, but asked to be introduced, and said all manner of foolish but agreeable things to her; and several old ladies, who sat on sofas, and criticized the rest of the party, inquired who she was with an air of interest. She heard Mrs. Moffat reply to one of them.

  “Daisy March—father a colonel in the army—one of our first families, but reverses of fortune, you know; intimate friends of the Laurences; sweet creature, I assure you; my Ned is quite wild about her.”

  “Dear me!” said the old lady, putting up her glass for another observation of Meg, who tried to look as if she had not heard and been rather shocked at Mrs. Moffat’s fibs.

  The “queer feeling” did not pass away, but she imagined herself acting the new part of fine lady and so got on pretty well, though the tight dress gave her a side-ache, the train kept getting under her feet, and she was in constant fear lest her earrings should fly off and get lost or broken. She was flirting her fan and laughing at the feeble jokes of a young gentleman who tried to be witty, when she suddenly stopped laughing and looked confused, for, just opposite, she saw Laurie. He was staring at her with undisguised surprise, and disapproval also, she thought, for, though he bowed and smiled, yet something in his honest eyes made her blush and wish she had her old dress on. To complete her confusion, she saw Belle nudge Annie, and both glance from her to Laurie, who, she was happy to see, looked unusually boyish and shy.

  “Silly creatures, to put such thoughts into my head. I won’t care for it, or let it change me a bit,” thought Meg, and rustled across the room to shake hands with her friend.

  “I’m glad you came, I was afraid you wouldn‘t,” she said, with her most grown-up air.

  “Jo wanted me to come, and tell her how you looked, so I did,” answered Laurie, without turning his eyes upon her, though he half smiled at her maternal tone.

  “What shall you tell her?” asked Meg, full of curiosity to know his opinion of her, yet feeling ill at ease with him for the first time.

  “I shall say I didn’t know you, for you look so grown-up and unlike yourself, I’m quite afraid of you,” he said, fumbling at his glove button.

  “How absurd of you! The girls dressed me up for fun, and I rather like it. Wouldn’t Jo stare if she saw me?” said Meg, bent on making him say whether he thought her improved or not.

  “Yes, I think she would,” returned Laurie gravely.

  “Don’t you like me so?” asked Meg.

  “No, I don‘t,” was the blunt reply.

  “Why not?” in an anxious tone.

  He glanced at her frizzledbc head, bare shoulders, and fantastically trimmed dress with an expression that abashed her more than his answer, which had not a particle of his usual politeness about it.

  “I don’t like fuss and feathers.”

  That was altogether too much from a lad younger than herself, and Meg walked away, saying petulantly, “You are the rudest boy I ever saw.”

  Feeling very much ruffled, she went and stood at a quiet window to cool her cheeks, for the tight dress gave her an uncomfortably brilliant color. As she stood there, Major Lincoln passed by, and a minute after she heard him saying to his mother—

  “They are making a fool of that little girl; I wanted you to see her, but they have spoiled her entirely; she’s nothing but a doll tonight.”

  “Oh, dear!” sighed Meg. “I wish I’d been sensible and worn my own things, then I should not have disgusted other people, or felt so uncomfortable and ashamed myself.”

  She leaned her forehead on the cool pane, and stood half hidden by the curtains, never minding that her favorite waltz had begun, till someone touched her; and, turning, she saw Laurie, looking penitent, as he said, with his very best bow and his hand out—

  “Please forgive my rudeness, and come and dance with me.”

  “I’m afraid it will be too disagreeable to you,” said Meg, trying to look offended and failing entirely.

  “Not a bit of it, I’m dying to do it. Come, I’ll be good. I don’t like your gown, but I do think you are—just splendid.” And he waved his hands, as if words failed to express his admiration.

  Meg smiled and relented, and whispered as they stood waiting to catch the time, “Take care my skirt doesn’t trip you up; it’s the plague of my life and I was a goose to wear it.”

  “Pin it round your neck, and then it will be useful,” said Laurie, looking down at the little blue boots, which he evidently approved of.

  Away they went fleedy and gracefully, for, having practiced at home, they were well matched, and the blithe young couple were a pleasant sight to see, as they twirled merrily round and round, feeling more friendly than ever after their small tiff.

  “Laurie, I want you to do me a favor, will you?” said Meg, as he stood fanning her when her breath gave out, which it did very soon though she would not own why.

  “Won’t I!” said Laurie, with alacrity.

  “Please don’t tell them at home about my dress tonight. They won’t understand the joke, and it will worry Mother.”

  “Then why did you do it?” said Laurie’s eyes, so plainly that Meg hastily added—

  “I shall tell them myself all about it, and ‘fess’ to Mother how silly I’ve been. But I’d rather do it myself; so you’ll not tell, will you?”

  “I give you my word I won‘t, only what shall I say when they ask me?”

  “Just say I looked pretty well and was having a good time.”

  “I’ll say the first with all my heart, but how about the other? You don’t look as if you were having a good time. Are you?” And Laurie looked at her with an expression which made her answer in a whisper—

  “No, not just now. Don’t think I’m horrid. I only wanted a little fun, but this sort doesn’t pay, I find, and I’m getting tired of it.”

  “Here comes Ned Moffat; what does he want?” said Laurie, knitting his black brows as if he did not regard his young host in the light of a pleasant addition to the party.

  “He put his name down for three dances, and I suppose he’s coming for them. What a bore!” said Meg, assuming a languid air which amused Laurie immensely.

  He did not speak to her again till suppertime, when he saw her drinking champagne with Ned and his friend Fisher, who were behaving “like a pair of fools,” as Laurie said to himself, for he felt a brotherly sort of right to watch over the Marches and fight their battles whenever a defender was needed.

  “You’ll have a splitting headache tomorrow, if you drink much of that. I wouldn‘t, Meg, your mother doesn’t like it, you know,” he whispered, leaning over her chair, as Ned turned to refill her glass and Fisher stooped to pick up her fan.

  “I’m not Meg tonight, I’m ‘a doll’ who does all sorts of crazy things. Tomorrow I shall put away my ’fuss and feathers’ and be desperately good again,” she answered with an affected little laugh.

  “Wish tomorrow was here, then,” muttered Laurie, walking off, ill-pleased at the change he saw in her.

  Meg danced and flirted, chattered and giggled, as the other girls did; after supper she undertoo
k the German,bd and blundered through it, nearly upsetting her partner with her long skirt, and romping in a way that scandalized Laurie, who looked on and meditated a lecture. But he got no chance to deliver it, for Meg kept away from him till he came to say good night.

  “Remember!” she said, trying to smile, for the splitting headache had already begun.

  “Silence à la mort,” bereplied Laurie, with a melodramatic flourish, as he went away.

  This little bit of byplay excited Annie’s curiosity, but Meg was too tired for gossip and went to bed, feeling as if she had been to a masquerade and hadn’t enjoyed herself as much as she expected. She was sick all the next day, and on Saturday went home, quite used up with her fortnight’s fun and feeling that she had “sat in the lap of luxury” long enough.

  “It does seem pleasant to be quiet, and not have company manners on all the time. Home is a nice place, though it isn’t splendid,” said Meg, looking about her with a restful expression, as she sat with her mother and Jo on the Sunday evening.

  “I’m glad to hear you say so, dear, for I was afraid home would seem dull and poor to you after your fine quarters,” replied her mother, who had given her many anxious looks that day; for motherly eyes are quick to see any change in children’s faces.

  Meg had told her adventures gayly and said over and over what a charming time she had had, but something still seemed to weigh upon her spirits, and when the younger girls were gone to bed, she sat thoughtfully staring at the fire, saying little and looking worried. As the clock struck nine and Jo proposed bed, Meg suddenly left her chair and, taking Beth’s stool, leaned her elbows on her mother’s knee, saying bravely—

  “Marmee, I want to ‘fess.’ ”

  “I thought so; what is it, dear?”

  “Shall I go away?” asked Jo discreetly.

  “Of course not. Don’t I always tell you everything? I was ashamed to speak of it before the children, but I want you to know all the dreadful things I did at the Moffats‘.”

 
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