Little women, p.30
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Little Women, p.30

         Part #1 of Little Women series by Louisa May Alcott
 

  And slamming the door in Meg’s face, Aunt March drove off in high dudgeon. She seemed to take all the girl’s courage with her, for when left alone, Meg stood a moment, undecided whether to laugh or cry. Before she could make up her mind, she was taken possession of by Mr. Brooke, who said all in one breath, “I couldn’t help hearing, Meg. Thank you for defending me, and Aunt March for proving that you do care for me a little bit.”

  “I didn’t know how much till she abused you,” began Meg.

  “And I needn’t go away, but may stay and be happy, may I, dear?”

  Here was another fine chance to make the crushing speech and the stately exit, but Meg never thought of doing either, and disgraced herself forever in Jo’s eyes by meekly whispering, “Yes, John,” and hiding her face on Mr. Brooke’s waistcoat.

  Fifteen minutes after Aunt March’s departure, Jo came softly downstairs, paused an instant at the parlor door, and hearing no sound within, nodded and smiled with a satisfied expression, saying to herself, “She has seen him away as we planned, and that affair is settled. I’ll go and hear the fun, and have a good laugh over it.”

  But poor Jo never got her laugh, for she was transfixed upon the threshold by a spectacle which held her there, staring with her mouth nearly as wide open as her eyes. Going in to exult over a fallen enemy and to praise a strong-minded sister for the banishment of an objectionable lover, it certainly was a shock to behold the aforesaid enemy serenely sitting on the sofa, with the strong-minded sister enthroned upon his knee and wearing an expression of the most abject submission. Jo gave a sort of gasp, as if a cold shower bath had suddenly fallen upon her—for such an unexpected turning of the tables actually took her breath away. At the odd sound the lovers turned and saw her. Meg jumped up, looking both proud and shy, but “that man,” as Jo called him, actually laughed and said coolly, as he kissed the astonished newcomer, “Sister Jo, congratulate us!”

  That was adding insult to injury—it was altogether too much—and making some wild demonstration with her hands, Jo vanished without a word. Rushing upstairs, she startled the invalids by exclaiming tragically as she burst into the room, “Oh, do somebody go down quick; John Brooke is acting dreadfully, and Meg likes it!”

  Mr. and Mrs. March left the room with speed; and casting herself upon the bed, Jo cried and scolded tempestuously as she told the awful news to Beth and Amy. The little girls, however, considered it a most agreeable and interesting event, and Jo got little comfort from them; so she went up to her refuge in the garret, and confided her troubles to the rats.

  Nobody ever knew what went on in the parlor that afternoon; but a great deal of talking was done, and quiet Mr. Brooke astonished his friends by the eloquence and spirit with which he pleaded his suit, told his plans, and persuaded them to arrange everything just as he wanted it.

  The tea bell rang before he had finished describing the paradise which he meant to earn for Meg, and he proudly took her in to supper, both looking so happy that Jo hadn’t the heart to be jealous or dismal. Amy was very much impressed by John’s devotion and Meg’s dignity, Beth beamed at them from a distance, while Mr. and Mrs. March surveyed the young couple with such tender satisfaction that it was perfectly evident Aunt March was right in calling them as “unworldly as a pair of babies.” No one ate much, but everyone looked very happy, and the old room seemed to brighten up amazingly when the first romance of the family began there.

  “You can’t say nothing pleasant ever happens now, can you, Meg?” said Amy, trying to decide how she would group the lovers in the sketch she was planning to make.

  “No, I’m sure I can’t. How much has happened since I said that! It seems a year ago,” answered Meg, who was in a blissful dream lifted far above such common things as bread and butter.

  “The joys come close upon the sorrows this time, and I rather think the changes have begun,” said Mrs. March. “In most families there comes, now and then, a year full of events; this has been such a one, but it ends well, after all.”

  “Hope the next will end better,” muttered Jo, who found it very hard to see Meg absorbed in a stranger before her face, for Jo loved a few persons very dearly and dreaded to have their affection lost or lessened in any way.

  “I hope the third year from this will end better. I mean it shall, if I live to work out my plans,” said Mr. Brooke, smiling at Meg, as if everything had become possible to him now.

  “Doesn’t it seem very long to wait?” asked Amy, who was in a hurry for the wedding.

  “I’ve got so much to learn before I shall be ready, it seems a short time to me,” answered Meg, with a sweet gravity in her face never seen there before.

  “You have only to wait, I am to do the work,” said John, beginning his labors by picking up Meg’s napkin, with an expression which caused Jo to shake her head, and then say to herself with an air of relief as the front door banged, “Here comes Laurie. Now we shall have a little sensible conversation.”

  But Jo was mistaken, for Laurie came prancing in, overflowing with spirits, bearing a great bridal-looking bouquet for “Mrs. John Brooke,” and evidently laboring under the delusion that the whole affair had been brought about by his excellent management.

  “I knew Brooke would have it all his own way, he always does; for when he makes up his mind to accomplish anything, it’s done though the sky falls,” said Laurie, when he had presented his offering and his congratulations.

  “Much obliged for that recommendation. I take it as a good omen for the future and invite you to my wedding on the spot,” answered Mr. Brooke, who felt at peace with all mankind, even his mischievous pupil.

  “I’ll come if I’m at the ends of the earth, for the sight of Jo’s face alone on that occasion would be worth a long journey. You don’t look festive, ma‘am, what’s the matter?” asked Laurie, following her into a corner of the parlor, whither all had adjourned to greet Mr. Laurence.

  “I don’t approve of the match, but I’ve made up my mind to bear it, and shall not say a word against it,” said Jo solemnly. “You can’t know how hard it is for me to give up Meg,” she continued with a little quiver in her voice.

  “You don’t give her up. You only go halves,” said Laurie consolingly.

  “It never can be the same again. I’ve lost my dearest friend,” sighed Jo.

  “You’ve got me, anyhow. I’m not good for much, I know, but I’ll stand by you, Jo, all the days of my life. Upon my word I will!” And Laurie meant what he said.

  “I know you will, and I’m ever so much obliged. You are always a great comfort to me, Teddy,” returned Jo, gratefully shaking hands.

  “Well, now, don’t be dismal, there’s a good fellow. It’s all right, you see. Meg is happy, Brooke will fly round and get settled immediately, Grandpa will attend to him, and it will be very jolly to see Meg in her own little house. We’ll have capital times after she is gone, for I shall be through college before long, and then we’ll go abroad on some nice trip or other. Wouldn’t that console you?”

  “I rather think it would, but there’s no knowing what may happen in three years,” said Jo thoughtfully.

  “That’s true. Don’t you wish you could take a look forward and see where we shall all be then? I do,” returned Laurie.

  “I think not, for I might see something sad, and everyone looks so happy now, I don’t believe they could be much improved.” And Jo’s eyes went slowly round the room, brightening as they looked, for the prospect was a pleasant one.

  Father and Mother sat together, quietly reliving the first chapter of the romance which for them began some twenty years ago. Amy was drawing the lovers, who sat apart in a beautiful world of their own, the light of which touched their faces with a grace the little artist could not copy. Beth lay on her sofa, talking cheerily with her old friend, who held her little hand as if he felt that it possessed the power to lead him along the peaceful way she walked. Jo lounged in her favorite low seat, with the grave, quiet look which best became her,
and Laurie, leaning on the back of her chair, his chin on a level with her curly head, smiled with his friendliest aspect, and nodded at her in the long glass which reflected them both.

  So grouped, the curtain falls upon Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Whether it ever rises again, depends upon the reception given to the first act of the domestic drama called Little Women.

  Part Two7

  24

  Gossip

  In order that we may start afresh and go to Meg’s wedding with free minds, it will be well to begin with a little gossip about the Marches. And here let me premise that if any of the elders think there is too much “lovering” in the story, as I fear they may (I’m not afraid the young folks will make that objection), I can only say with Mrs. March “What can you expect when I have four gay girls in the house, and a dashing young neighbor over the way?”

  The three years that have passed have brought but few changes to the quiet family. The war is over, and Mr. March safely at home, busy with his books and the small parish which found in him a minister by nature as by grace—a quiet, studious man, rich in the wisdom that is better than learning, the charity which calls all mankind “brother,” the piety that blossoms into character, making it august and lovely.

  These attributes, in spite of poverty and the strict integrity which shut him out from the more worldly successes, attracted to him many admirable persons, as naturally as sweet herbs draw bees, and as naturally he gave them the honey into which fifty years of hard experience had distilled no bitter drop. Earnest young men found the gray-headed scholar as young at heart as they, thoughtful or troubled women instinctively brought their doubts to him, sure of finding the gentlest sympathy, the wisest counsel; sinners told their sins to the pure-hearted old man and were both rebuked and saved; gifted men found a companion in him; ambitious men caught glimpses of nobler ambitions than their own; and even worldlings confessed that his beliefs were beautiful and true, although “they wouldn’t pay.”

  To outsiders the five energetic women seemed to rule the house, and so they did in many things; but the quiet scholar, sitting among his books, was still the head of the family, the household conscience, anchor, and comforter, for to him the busy, anxious women always turned in troublous times, finding him, in the truest sense of those sacred words, husband and father.

  The girls gave their hearts into their mother’s keeping, their souls into their father’s; and to both parents, who lived and labored so faithfully for them, they gave a love that grew with their growth and bound them tenderly together by the sweetest tie which blesses life and outlives death.

  Mrs. March is as brisk and cheery, though rather grayer, than when we saw her last, and just now so absorbed in Meg’s affairs that the hospitals and homes still full of wounded “boys” and soldiers’ widows, decidedly miss the motherly missionary’s visits.

  John Brooke did his duty manfully for a year, got wounded, was sent home, and not allowed to return. He received no stars or bars, but he deserved them, for he cheerfully risked all he had, and life and love are very precious when both are in full bloom. Perfectly resigned to his discharge, he devoted himself to getting well, preparing for business, and earning a home for Meg. With the good sense and sturdy independence that characterized him, he refused Mr. Laurence’s more generous offers, and accepted the place of bookkeeper, feeling better satisfied to begin with an honestly earned salary than by running any risks with borrowed money.

  Meg had spent the time in working as well as waiting, growing womanly in character, wise in housewifely arts, and prettier than ever, for love is a great beautifier. She had her girlish ambitions and hopes, and felt some disappointment at the humble way in which the new life must begin. Ned Moffat had just married Sallie Gardiner, and Meg couldn’t help contrasting their fine house and carriage, many gifts, and splendid outfit with her own, and secretly wishing she could have the same. But somehow envy and discontent soon vanished when she thought of all the patient love and labor John had put into the little home awaiting her, and when they sat together in the twilight, talking over their small plans, the future always grew so beautiful and bright that she forgot Sallie’s splendor, and felt herself the richest, happiest girl in Christendom.

  Jo never went back to Aunt March, for the old lady took such a fancy to Amy that she bribed her with the offer of drawing lessons from one of the best teachers going; and for the sake of this advantage, Amy would have served a far harder mistress. So she gave her mornings to duty, her afternoons to pleasure, and prospered finely. Jo meantime devoted herself to literature and Beth, who remained delicate long after the fever was a thing of the past. Not an invalid exactly, but never again the rosy, healthy creature she had been, yet always hopeful, happy, and serene, busy with the quiet duties she loved, everyone’s friend, and an angel in the house, long before those who loved her most had learned to know it.

  As long as The Spread Eagle paid her a dollar a column for her “rubbish,” as she called it, Jo felt herself a woman of means, and spun her little romances diligently. But great plans fermented in her busy brain and ambitious mind, and the old tin kitchen in the garret held a slowly increasing pile of blotted manuscript, which was one day to place the name of March upon the roll of fame.

  Laurie, having dutifully gone to college to please his grandfather, was now getting through it in the easiest possible manner to please himself. A universal favorite, thanks to money, manners, much talent, and the kindest heart that ever got its owner into scrapes by trying to get other people out of them, he stood in great danger of being spoiled, and probably would have been, like many another promising boy, if he had not possessed a talisman against evil in the memory of the kind old man who was bound up in his success, the motherly friend who watched over him as if he were her son, and last, but not least by any means, the knowledge that four innocent girls loved, admired, and believed in him with all their hearts.

  Being only “a glorious human boy,” of course he frolicked and flirted, grew dandified, aquatic, sentimental, or gymnastic, as college fashions ordained, hazed and was hazed, talked slang, and more than once came perilously near suspension and expulsion. But as high spirits and the love of fun were the causes of these pranks, he always managed to save himself by frank confession, honorable atonement, or the irresistible power of persuasion which he possessed in perfection. In fact, he rather prided himself on his narrow escapes, and liked to thrill the girls with graphic accounts of his triumphs over wrathful tutors, dignified professors, and vanquished enemies. The “men of my class” were heroes in the eyes of the girls, who never wearied of the exploits of “our fellows,” and were frequently allowed to bask in the smiles of these great creatures, when Laurie brought them home with him.

  Amy especially enjoyed this high honor, and became quite a belle among them, for her ladyship early felt and learned to use the gift of fascination with which she was endowed. Meg was too much absorbed in her private and particular John to care for any other lords of creation, and Beth too shy to do more than peep at them and wonder how Amy dared to order them about so, but Jo felt quite in her element, and found it very difficult to refrain from imitating the gentlemanly attitudes, phrases, and feats, which seemed more natural to her than the decorums prescribed for young ladies. They all liked Jo immensely, but never fell in love with her, though very few escaped without paying the tribute of a sentimental sigh or two at Amy’s shrine. And speaking of sentiment brings us very naturally to the “Dovecote.”

  That was the name of the little brown house which Mr. Brooke had prepared for Meg’s first home. Laurie had christened it, saying it was highly appropriate to the gentle lovers who “went on together like a pair of turtledoves, with first a bill and then a coo.” It was a tiny house, with a little garden behind and a lawn about as big as a pocket handkerchief in front. Here Meg meant to have a fountain, shrubbery, and a profusion of lovely flowers; though just at present the fountain was represented by a weather-beaten urn, very like a dilapidated slopbow
l, the shrubbery consisted of several young larches, undecided whether to live or die, and the profusion of flowers was merely hinted by regiments of sticks to show where seeds were planted. But inside, it was altogether charming, and the happy bride saw no fault from garret to cellar. To be sure, the hall was so narrow it was fortunate that they had no piano, for one never could have been got in whole, the dining room was so small that six people were a tight fit, and the kitchen stairs seemed built for the express purpose of precipitating both servants and china pell-mell into the coalbin. But once get used to these slight blemishes and nothing could be more complete, for good sense and good taste had presided over the furnishing, and the result was highly satisfactory. There were no marble-topped tables, long mirrors, or lace curtains in the little parlor, but simple furniture, plenty of books, a fine picture or two, a stand of flowers in the bay window, and, scattered all about, the pretty gifts which came from friendly hands and were the fairer for the loving messages they brought.

  I don’t think the Parian Psychedt Laurie gave lost any of its beauty because John put up the bracket it stood upon, that any upholsterer could have draped the plain muslin curtains more gracefully than Amy’s artistic hand, or that any storeroom was ever better provided with good wishes, merry words, and happy hopes than that in which Jo and her mother put away Meg’s few boxes, barrels, and bundles; and I am morally certain that the spandy new kitchen never could have looked so cozy and neat if Hannah had not arranged every pot and pan a dozen times over, and laid the fire all ready for lighting, the minute “Mis. Brooke came home.” I also doubt if any young matron ever began life with so rich a supply of dusters, holders, and piece bags, for Beth made enough to last till the silver wedding came round, and invented three different kinds of dishcloths for the express service of the bridal china.

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
  • 112 531
  • 0