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First digital edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri
"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbledJo, lying onthe rug.
"It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg, looking down at herold dress.
"I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of prettythings, and other girls nothing at all," added little Amy, with aninjured sniff.
"We've got Father andMother, and each other," said Bethcontentedly from her corner.
The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened atthe cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, "Wehaven't got Father, and shall not have him for a long time." Shedidn't say "perhaps never," but each silently added it, thinking ofFather far away, where the fighting was.
Nobody spoke for a minute; then Meg said in an altered tone,"You know the reason Mother proposed not having any presents thisChristmas was becauseit is going to be a hard winter for everyone;and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when ourmen are suffering so in the army. We can't do much, but we can makeour little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am afraid Idon't,"and Meg shook her head, as she thought regretfully of allthe pretty things she wanted.
"But I don't think the little we should spend would do any good.We've each got a dollar, and the army wouldn't be much helped byour giving that. I agree not to expectanything from Mother or you,but I do want to buyUndine and Sintranfor myself. I've wanted it solong," said Jo, who was a bookworm.
"I planned to spend mine in new music," said Beth, with a littlesigh, which no one heard but the hearth brush andkettle-holder.
"I shall get a nice box of Faber's drawing pencils; I reallyneed them," said Amy decidedly.
"Mother didn't say anything about our money, and she won't wishus to give up everything. Let's each buy what we want, and have alittle fun; I'm sure wework hard enough to earn it," cried Jo,examining the heels of her shoes in a gentlemanly manner.
"I know I do—teaching those tiresome children nearly allday, when I'm longing to enjoy myself at home," began Meg, in thecomplaining tone again.
"You don'thave half such a hard time as I do," said Jo. "Howwould you like to be shut up for hours with a nervous, fussy oldlady, who keeps you trotting, is never satisfied, and worries youtill you're ready to fly out the window or cry?"
"It's naughty to fret, but I do think washing dishes and keepingthings tidy is the worst work in the world. It makes me cross, andmy hands get so stiff, I can't practice well at all." And Bethlooked at her rough hands with a sigh that any one could hear thattime.
"I don't believe any of you suffer as I do," cried Amy, "for youdon't have to go to school with impertinent girls, who plague youif you don't know your lessons, and laugh at your dresses, andlabel your father if he isn't rich, and insult you when your noseisn't nice."
"If you mean libel, I'd say so, and not talk about labels, as ifPapa was a pickle bottle," advised Jo, laughing.
"I know what I mean, and you needn't be statirical about it.It's proper to use good words, and improve your vocabilary,"returned Amy, with dignity.
"Don't peck at one another, children. Don't you wish we had themoney Papa lost when we were little, Jo? Dear me! How happy andgood we'd be, if we had no worries!" said Meg, who could rememberbetter times.
"You said the other day you thoughtwe were a deal happier thanthe King children, for they were fighting and fretting all thetime, in spite of their money."
"So I did, Beth. Well, I think we are. For though we do have towork, we make fun of ourselves, and are a pretty jolly set, as Jowould say."
"Jo does use such slang words!" observed Amy, with a reprovinglook at the long figure stretched on the rug.
Jo immediately sat up, put her hands in her pockets, and beganto whistle.
"Don't, Jo. It's so boyish!"
"That's why I do it."
"I detest rude, unladylike girls!"
"I hate affected, niminy-piminy chits!"
"Birds in their little nests agree," sang Beth, the peacemaker,with such a funny face that both sharp voices softened to a laugh,and the "pecking" ended for that time.
"Really, girls, you are both to be blamed," said Meg, beginningto lecture in her elder-sisterly fashion. "You are old enough toleave off boyish tricks, and to behave better, Josephine. It didn'tmatter so much when you were a little girl, but now you are sotall, and turn upyour hair, you should remember that you are ayoung lady."
"I'm not! And if turning up my hair makes me one, I'll wear itin two tails till I'm twenty," cried Jo, pulling off her net, andshaking down a chestnut mane. "I hate to think I've got to growup,and be Miss March, and wear long gowns, and look as prim as aChina Aster! It's bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I likeboy's games and work and manners! I can't get over mydisappointment in not being a boy. And it's worse than ever now,for I'm dying to go and fight with Papa. And I can only stay homeand knit, like a poky old woman!"
And Jo shook the blue army sock till the needles rattled likecastanets, and her ball bounded across the room.
"Poor Jo! It's too bad, but it can't be helped. So you must tryto be contented with making your name boyish, and playing brotherto us girls," said Beth, stroking the rough head with a hand thatall the dish washing and dusting in the world could not makeungentle in its touch.
"As for you, Amy," continued Meg,"you are altogether tooparticular and prim. Your airs are funny now, but you'll grow up anaffected little goose, if you don't take care. I like your nicemanners and refined ways of speaking, when you don't try to beelegant. But your absurd words are as bad as Jo's slang."
"If Jo is a tomboy and Amy a goose, what am I, please?" askedBeth, ready to share the lecture.
"You're a dear, and nothing else," answered Meg warmly, and noone contradicted her, for the 'Mouse' was the pet of thefamily.
As young readers like to know 'how people look', we will takethis moment to give them a little sketch of the four sisters, whosat knitting away in the twilight, while the December snow fellquietly without, and the fire crackled cheerfully within. It was acomfortable room, though the carpet was faded and the furniturevery plain, for a good picture or two hung on the walls, booksfilled the recesses, chrysanthemums and Christmas roses bloomed inthe windows, and a pleasant atmosphere of home peace pervadedit.
Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty,being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, asweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain.Fifteen-year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and remindedone of a colt, for she never seemed to know what to do with herlong limbs, which were very much in her way. She had a decidedmouth, a comical nose, and sharp, gray eyes, which appeared to seeeverything, and were by turns fierce, funny, or thoughtful.Herlong, thick hair was her one beauty, but it was usually bundledinto a net, to be out of her way. Round shoulders had Jo, big handsand feet, a flyaway look to her clothes, and the uncomfortableappearance of a girl whowas rapidly shooting up into a womananddidn't like it. Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, was arosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shymanner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression which was seldomdisturbed. Her father called her 'Little Miss Tranquility', and thename suited her excellently, for she seemed to live in a happyworld of her own, only venturing out to meet the few whom shetrusted and loved. Amy, though the youngest, was a most importantperson, in her own opinion at least. A regular snow maiden, withblue eyes, and yellow hair curling on her shoulders, pale andslender, and always carrying herself like a young lady mindful ofher manners. What the characters of the four sisters were we willleave to be found out.
The clock struck six and, having swept up the hearth, Beth put apair of slippers down to warm. Somehow the sight of the old shoeshad a good effect upon the girls, for Mother was coming, andeveryone brightened to welcome her. Meg stopped lecturing, andlighted the lamp, Amy got outof the easy chair without being asked,and Jo forgot how tired she was as she sat up to hold the slippersnearer to the blaze.
"They are quite worn out. Marmee must have a new pair."
"I thought I'd get her some with my dollar," said Beth.
"No, I shall!" cried Amy.
"I'm the oldest," began Meg, but Jo cut in with a decided, "I'mthe man of the family now Papa is away, and I shall provide theslippers, for he told me to take special care of Mother while hewas gone."
"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Beth,"let's each get hersomething for Christmas, and not get anything for ourselves."
"That's like you, dear! What will we get?" exclaimed Jo.
Everyone thought soberly for a minute, then Meg announced, as ifthe idea was suggested by the sight of her own pretty hands, "Ishall give her a nice pair of gloves."
"Army shoes, best to be had," cried Jo.
"Some handkerchiefs, all hemmed," said Beth.
"I'll get a little bottle of cologne. She likes it, and it won'tcost much, so I'll have some left to buy my pencils," addedAmy.
"How will we give the things?" asked Meg.
"Put them on the table, and bring her in and see her open thebundles. Don't you remember how we used to do on our birthdays?"answered Jo.
"I used to be so frightened when it was my turn to sit inthechair with the crown on, and see you all come marching round togive the presents, with a kiss. I liked the things and the kisses,but it was dreadful to have you sit looking at me while I openedthe bundles," said Beth, who was toasting her face and the breadfor tea at the same time.
"Let Marmee think we are getting things for ourselves, and thensurprise her. We must go shopping tomorrow afternoon, Meg. There isso much to do about the play for Christmas night," said Jo,marching up and down, with her hands behind her back, and her nosein the air.
"I don't mean to act any more after this time. I'm getting tooold for such things," observed Meg, who was as much a child as everabout 'dressing-up' frolics.
"You won't stop, I know, as long as you can trailround in awhite gown with your hair down, and wear gold-paper jewelry. Youare the best actress we've got, and there'll be an end ofeverything if you quit the boards," said Jo. "We ought to rehearsetonight. Come here, Amy, and do the fainting scene, foryou are asstiff as a poker in that."
"I can't help it. I never saw anyone faint, and I don't chooseto make myself all black and blue, tumbling flat as you do. If Ican go down easily, I'll drop. If I can't, I shall fall into achair and be graceful. I don't care if Hugo does come at me with apistol," returned Amy, who was not gifted with dramatic power, butwas chosen because she was small enough to be borne out shriekingby the villain of the piece.
"Do it this way. Clasp your hands so, and stagger across theroom, crying frantically, 'Roderigo! Save me! Save me!'" and awaywent Jo, with a melodramatic scream which was truly thrilling.
Amy followed, but she poked her hands out stiffly before her,and jerked herself along as if she went by machinery, andher "Ow!"was more suggestive of pins being run into her than of fear andanguish. Jo gave a despairing groan, and Meg laughed outright,while Beth let her bread burn as she watched the fun with interest."It's no use! Do the best you can when the time comes, and if theaudience laughs, don't blame me. Come on, Meg."
Then things went smoothly, for Don Pedro defied the world in aspeech of two pages without a single break. Hagar, the witch,chanted an awful incantation over her kettleful of simmeringtoads,with weird effect. Roderigo rent his chains asunder manfully,and Hugo died in agonies of remorse and arsenic, with a wild, "Ha!Ha!"
"It's the best we've had yet," said Meg, as the dead villain satup and rubbed his elbows.
"I don't see how you can writeand act such splendid things, Jo.You're a regular Shakespeare!" exclaimed Beth, who firmly believedthat her sisters were gifted with wonderful genius in allthings.
"Not quite," replied Jo modestly. "I do thinkThe Witches Curse,an Operatic Tragedyisrather a nice thing, but I'd like totryMacbeth, if we only had a trapdoor for Banquo. I alwayswanted todo the killing part. 'Is that a dagger that I see before me?"muttered Jo, rolling her eyes and clutching at the air, as she hadseen a famous tragedian do.
"No, it's the toasting fork, with Mother's shoe on it instead ofthe bread. Beth's stage-struck!" cried Meg, and the rehearsal endedin a general burst of laughter.
"Glad to find you so merry, my girls," said a cheery voice atthe door, and actorsand audience turned to welcome a tall, motherlylady with a 'can I help you' look about her which was trulydelightful. She was not elegantly dressed, but a noble-lookingwoman, and the girls thought the gray cloak and unfashionablebonnet covered the mostsplendid mother in the world.
"Well, dearies, how have you got on today? There was so much todo, getting the boxes ready to go tomorrow, that I didn't come hometo dinner. Has anyone called, Beth? How is your cold, Meg? Jo, youlook tired to death. Comeand kiss me, baby."
While making these maternal inquiries Mrs. March got her wetthings off, her warm slippers on, and sitting down in the easychair, drew Amy to her lap, preparing to enjoy the happiest hour ofher busy day. The girls flew about, trying to make thingscomfortable, each in her own way. Meg arranged the tea table, Jobrought wood and set chairs, dropping, over-turning, and clatteringeverything she touched. Beth trotted to and fro between parlorkitchen, quiet and busy, while Amy gave directions to everyone, asshe sat with her hands folded.
As they gathered about the table, Mrs. March said, with aparticularly happy face, "I've got a treat for you aftersupper."
A quick, bright smile went round like a streak of sunshine. Bethclapped her hands, regardless of the biscuit she held, and Jotossed up her napkin, crying, "A letter! A letter! Three cheers forFather!"
"Yes, a nice long letter. He is well, and thinks he shall getthrough the cold season better than we feared. He sends all sortsof loving wishes for Christmas, and an especial message to yougirls," said Mrs. March, patting her pocket as if she had got atreasure there.
"Hurry and get done! Don't stop to quirk your little finger andsimper over your plate, Amy," cried Jo, choking on her tea anddropping her bread, butter side down, on the carpet in her haste toget at the treat.
Beth ate no more, but crept away to sit in her shadowy cornerand brood over the delight to come, till the others were ready.
"I think it was so splendid in Father to go as chaplain when hewas too old to be drafted, and not strong enough for a soldier,"said Meg warmly.
"Don't I wish I could go as a drummer, a vivan—what's itsname? Or a nurse, so I could be near him and help him," exclaimedJo, with a groan.
"It must be very disagreeable to sleep in a tent, and eat allsorts of bad-tasting things, and drink out of a tin mug," sighedAmy.
"When will he come home, Marmee?" asked Beth, with a littlequiver in her voice.
"Not for many months, dear, unless he is sick. He will stay anddo his work faithfully as long as he can, and we won't ask for himback a minute sooner than he can be spared. Now come and hear theletter."
They all drew to the fire, Mother in the big chair with Beth ather feet, Meg and Amy perched on either arm of the chair, and Joleaning on the back, where no one would see any sign of emotion ifthe letter should happen to be touching. Very few letters werewritten in those hard times that were not touching, especiallythose which fathers sent home. In this one little was said of thehardships endured, the dangers faced, or the homesicknessconquered. It was a cheerful, hopeful letter, full of livelydescriptions of camp life, marches, and military news, and only atthe end did the writer's heart over-flow with fatherly love andlonging for the little girls at home.
"Give them all of my dear love and a kiss. Tell them I think ofthem by day, pray for them by night, and find my best comfort intheir affection at all times. A year seems very long to wait beforeI see them, but remind them that while we wait we may all work, sothat these hard days need not be wasted. I know they will rememberall I said to them, that they will be loving children to you, willdo their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, andconquer themselves so beautifully that when I come back to them Imay be fonder and prouder than ever of my little women." Everybodysniffed when they came to that part. Jo wasn't ashamed of the greattear that dropped off the end of her nose, and Amy never minded therumpling of her curls as she hid her face on her mother's shoulderand sobbed out, "I am a selfish girl! But I'll truly try to bebetter, so he mayn't be disappointed in me by-and-by."
"We all will," cried Meg. "I think toomuch of my looks and hateto work, but won't any more, if I can help it."
"I'll try and be what he loves to call me, 'a little woman' andnot be rough and wild, but do my duty here instead of wanting to besomewhere else," said Jo, thinking that keeping her temper at homewas a much harder task than facing a rebel or two down South.
Beth said nothing, but wiped away her tears with the blue armysock and began to knit with all her might, losing no time in doingthe duty that lay nearest her, while she resolved in her quietlittle soul to be all that Father hoped to find her when the yearbrought round the happy coming home.
Mrs. March broke the silence that followed Jo's words, by sayingin her cheery voice, "Do you remember how you used to play PilgrimsProgress when you were little things? Nothing delighted you morethan to have me tie my piece bags on your backs for burdens, giveyou hats and sticks and rolls of paper, and let you travel throughthe house from the cellar, which was the City of Destruction,up,up, to the housetop, where you had all the lovely things you couldcollect to make a Celestial City."
"What fun it was, especially going by the lions, fightingApollyon, and passing through the valley where the hob-goblinswere," said Jo.
"I liked theplace where the bundles fell off and tumbleddownstairs," said Meg.
"I don't remember much about it, except that I was afraid of thecellar and the dark entry, and always liked the cake and milk wehad up at the top. If I wasn't too old for such things, I'd ratherlike to play it over again," said Amy, who began to talk ofrenouncing childish things at the mature age of twelve.
"We never are too old for this, my dear, because it is a play weare playing all the time in one way or another. Our burdens arehere, our road is before us, and the longing for goodness andhappiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles andmistakes to the peace which is a true Celestial City. Now, mylittle pilgrims, suppose you begin again, not in play, but inearnest,and see how far on you can get before Father comeshome."
"Really, Mother? Where are our bundles?" asked Amy, who was avery literal young lady.
"Each of you told what your burden was just now, except Beth. Irather think she hasn't got any," said her mother.
"Yes, I have. Mine is dishes and dusters, and envying girls withnice pianos, and being afraid of people."
Beth's bundle was such a funny one that everybody wanted tolaugh, but nobody did, for it would have hurt her feelings verymuch.
"Let us do it," said Meg thoughtfully. "It is only another namefor trying to be good, and the story may help us, for though we dowant to be good, it's hard work and we forget, and don't do ourbest."
"We were in the Slough of Despond tonight, and Mother came andpulled us out as Help did in the book. We ought to have our roll ofdirections, like Christian. What shall we do about that?" asked Jo,delighted with the fancy which lent a little romance to the verydull task of doing her duty.
"Look under your pillows Christmas morning, and you will findyour guidebook," replied Mrs. March.
They talked over the new plan while old Hannah cleared thetable, then out came the four little work baskets, and the needlesflew as the girls made sheets for Aunt March. It was uninterestingsewing, but tonight no one grumbled. They adopted Jo's plan ofdividing the long seams into four parts, and calling the quartersEurope, Asia, Africa, and America, and in that way got oncapitally, especially when they talked about the differentcountries as they stitched their way through them.
At nine they stopped work, and sang, as usual, before they wentto bed. No one but Beth could get much music out of the old piano,but she had a way of softly touching the yellow keys and making apleasant accompaniment to the simple songs they sang. Meg had avoice like a flute, and she and her mother led the little choir.Amy chirped like a cricket, and Jo wandered through the airs at herown sweet will, always coming out at the wrong place with a croakor a quaver that spoiled the most pensive tune. They had alwaysdone this from the time they could lisp...
Crinkle, crinkle, 'ittle 'tar,
and it had become a household custom, for the mother was a bornsinger. The first sound in the morning was her voice as shewentabout the house singing like a lark, and the last sound at nightwas the same cheery sound, for the girls never grew too old forthat familiar lullaby.
Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmasmorning.No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt asmuch disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock felldown because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she rememberedher mother's promise and, slipping her hand underher pillow, drewout a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for itwas that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jofelt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a longjourney. She woke Meg with a "Merry Christmas," and bade her seewhat was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with thesame picture inside, and a few words written by their mother, whichmade their one present very precious in their eyes. Presently Bethand Amy woke to rummage and find their little books also, onedove-colored, the other blue, and all sat looking at and talkingabout them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.
In spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet and piousnature, which unconsciously influencedher sisters, especially Jo,who loved her very tenderly, and obeyed her because her advice wasso gently given.
"Girls," said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled headbeside her to the two little night-capped ones in the room beyond,"Mother wants us to read and love and mind these books, and we mustbegin at once. We used to be faithful about it, but since Fatherwent away and all this war trouble unsettled us, we have neglectedmany things. You can do as you please, but I shall keep my book onthe table here and read a little every morning as soon as I wake,for I know it will do me good and help me through the day."
Then she opened her new book and began to read. Jo put her armround her and, leaning cheek to cheek, read also, with the quietexpression so seldom seen on her restless face.
"How good Meg is! Come, Amy, let's do as they do. I'll help youwith the hard words, and they'll explain things if we don'tunderstand," whispered Beth, very much impressed by the prettybooks and her sisters' example.
"I'm glad mine is blue," said Amy. and then the rooms were verystill while the pages were softly turned, and the winter sunshinecrept in to touch the bright heads and serious faces with aChristmas greeting.
"Where is Mother?" asked Meg, as she and Joran down to thank herfor their gifts, half an hour later.
"Goodness only knows. Some poor creeter came a-beggin', and yourma went straight off to see what was needed. There never was such awoman for givin' away vittles and drink, clothes and firin',"replied Hannah, who had lived with the family since Meg was born,and was considered by them all more as a friend than a servant.
"She will be back soon, I think, so fry your cakes, and haveeverything ready," said Meg, looking over the presents which werecollected in a basket and kept under the sofa, ready to be producedat the proper time. "Why, where is Amy's bottle of cologne?" sheadded, as the little flask did not appear.
"She took it out a minute ago, and went off with it to put aribbon on it, or some such notion," replied Jo, dancing about theroom to take the first stiffness off the new army slippers.
"How nice my handkerchiefs look, don't they? Hannah washed andironed them for me, and I marked them all myself," said Beth,looking proudly at the somewhat uneven letters which had cost hersuch labor.
"Bless the child! She's gone and put 'Mother' on them instead of'M. March'. How funny!" cried Jo, taking one up.
"Isn't that right? I thought it was better to do it so, becauseMeg's initials are M.M.,and I don't want anyone to use these butMarmee," said Beth, looking troubled.
"It's all right, dear, and a very pretty idea, quite sensibletoo, for no one can ever mistake now. It will please her very much,I know," said Meg, with a frown for Jo and a smile for Beth.
"There's Mother. Hide the basket, quick!" cried Jo, as a doorslammed and steps sounded in the hall.
Amy came in hastily, and looked rather abashed when she saw hersisters all waiting for her.
"Where have you been, and what are you hiding behind you?" askedMeg, surprised to see, by her hood and cloak, that lazy Amy hadbeen out so early.
"Don't laugh at me, Jo! I didn't mean anyone should know tillthe time came. I only meant to change the little bottle for a bigone, and I gave all my moneyto get it, and I'm truly trying not tobe selfish any more."
As she spoke, Amy showed the handsome flask which replaced thecheap one, and looked so earnest and humble in her little effort toforget herself that Meg hugged her on the spot, and Jo pronouncedher 'a trump', while Beth ran to the window, and picked her finestrose to ornament the stately bottle.
"You see I felt ashamed of my present, after reading and talkingabout being good this morning, so I ran round the corner andchanged it the minute Iwas up, and I'm so glad, for mine is thehandsomest now."
Another bang of the street door sent the basket under the sofa,and the girls to the table, eager for breakfast.
"Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you for our books.We read some, and mean to every day," they all cried in chorus.
"Merry Christmas, little daughters! I'm glad you began at once,and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sitdown. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a littlenewborn baby. Sixchildren are huddled into one bed to keep fromfreezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat overthere, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were sufferinghunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as aChristmas present?"
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour,and for a minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimedimpetuously, "I'm so glad you came before we began!"
"May I go and help carry the things to the poor littlechildren?" asked Betheagerly.
"I shall take the cream and the muffings," added Amy, heroicallygiving up the article she most liked.
Meg was already covering the buckwheats, and piling the breadinto one big plate.
"I thought you'd do it," said Mrs. March, smiling as ifsatisfied. "You shall all go and help me, and when we come back wewill have bread and milk for breakfast, and make it up atdinnertime."
They were soon ready, and the procession set out. Fortunately itwas early, and they went through back streets, so few people sawthem, and no one laughed at the queer party.
A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, nofire, ragged bedclothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a groupof pale, hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying tokeep warm.
Howthe big eyes stared and the blue lips smiled as the girlswent in.
"Ach, mein Gott! It is good angels come to us!" said the poorwoman, crying for joy.
"Funny angels in hoods and mittens," said Jo, and set them tolaughing.
In a few minutes it really didseem as if kind spirits had beenat work there. Hannah, who had carried wood, made a fire, andstopped up the broken panes with old hats and her own cloak. Mrs.March gave the mother tea and gruel, and comforted her withpromises of help, while she dressedthe little baby as tenderly asif it had been her own. The girls meantime spread the table, setthe children round the fire, and fed them like so many hungrybirds, laughing, talking, and trying to understand the funny brokenEnglish.
"Das ist gut!" "DieEngel-kinder!" cried the poor things as theyate and warmed their purple hands at the comfortable blaze. Thegirls had never been called angel children before, and thought itvery agreeable, especially Jo, who had been considered a 'Sancho'ever since shewas born. That was a very happy breakfast, thoughthey didn't get any of it. And when they went away, leaving comfortbehind, I think there were not in all the city four merrier peoplethan the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts andcontented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning.
"That's loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and I likeit," said Meg, as they set out their presents while their motherwas upstairs collecting clothes for the poor Hummels.
Not a very splendidshow, but there was a great deal of love doneup in the few little bundles, and the tall vase of red roses, whitechrysanthemums, and trailing vines, which stood in the middle, gavequite an elegant air to the table.
"She's coming! Strike up, Beth! Open the door, Amy! Three cheersfor Marmee!" cried Jo, prancing about while Meg went to conductMother to the seat of honor.
Beth played her gayest march, Amy threw open the door, and Megenacted escort with great dignity. Mrs. March was both surprisedand touched, and smiled with her eyes full as she examined herpresents and read the little notes which accompanied them. Theslippers went on at once, a new handkerchief was slipped into herpocket, well scented with Amy's cologne, the rose was fastened inher bosom, and the nice gloves were pronounced a perfect fit.
There was a good deal of laughing and kissing and explaining, inthe simple, loving fashion which makes these home festivals sopleasant at the time, so sweet to remember long afterward, and thenallfell to work.
The morning charities and ceremonies took so much time that therest of the day was devoted to preparations for the eveningfestivities. Being still too young to go often to the theater, andnot rich enough to afford any great outlay for privateperformances, the girls put their wits to work, and necessity beingthe mother of invention, made whatever they needed. Very cleverwere some of their productions, pasteboard guitars, antique lampsmade of old-fashioned butter boats covered with silverpaper,gorgeous robes of old cotton, glittering with tin spangles from apickle factory, and armor covered with the same useful diamondshaped bits left in sheets when the lids of preserve pots were cutout. The big chamber was the scene of many innocentrevels.
No gentleman were admitted, so Jo played male parts to herheart's content and took immense satisfaction in a pair of russetleather boots given her by a friend, who knew a lady who knew anactor. These boots, an old foil, and a slashed doublet once used byan artist for some picture, were Jo's chief treasures and appearedon all occasions. The smallness of the company made it necessaryfor the two principal actors to take several parts apiece, and theycertainly deserved some credit for the hard work they did inlearning three or four different parts, whisking in and out ofvarious costumes, and managing the stage besides. It was excellentdrill for their memories, a harmless amusement, and employed manyhours which otherwise would have been idle, lonely, or spent inless profitable society.
On Christmas night, a dozen girls piled onto the bed which wasthe dress circle, and sat before the blue and yellow chintzcurtains in a most flattering state of expectancy. There was a gooddeal of rustling andwhispering behind the curtain, a trifle of lampsmoke, and an occasional giggle from Amy, who was apt to gethysterical in the excitement of the moment. Presently a bellsounded, the curtains flew apart, and theoperatic tragedybegan.
"A gloomy wood," according to the one playbill, was representedby a few shrubs in pots, green baize on the floor, and a cave inthe distance. This cave was made with a clothes horse for a roof,bureaus for walls, and in it was a small furnace in full blast,with a black poton it and an old witch bending over it. The stagewas dark and the glow of the furnace had a fine effect, especiallyas real steam issued from the kettle when the witch took off thecover. A moment was allowed for the first thrill to subside, thenHugo, the villain, stalked in with a clanking sword at his side, aslouching hat, black beard, mysterious cloak, and the boots. Afterpacing to and fro in much agitation, he struck his forehead, andburst out in a wild strain, singing of his hatred for Roderigo, hislove for Zara, and his pleasing resolution to kill the one and winthe other. The gruff tones of Hugo's voice, with an occasionalshout when his feelings overcame him, were very impressive, and theaudience applauded the moment he paused for breath. Bowing with theair of one accustomed to public praise, he stole to the cavern andordered Hagar to come forth with a commanding, "What ho, minion! Ineed thee!"
Out came Meg, with gray horsehair hanging about her face, a redand black robe, a staff, and cabalistic signs upon her cloak. Hugodemanded a potion to make Zara adore him, and one to destroyRoderigo. Hagar, in a fine dramatic melody, promised both, andproceeded to call up the spirit who would bring the lovephilter.
Hither, hither, from thy home,Airy sprite, I bid thee come!Bornof roses, fed on dew,Charms and potions canst thou brew?Bring mehere, with elfin speed,The fragrant philter which I need.Make itsweet and swift and strong,Spirit, answer now my song!
A soft strain of music sounded, and then at the back of the caveappeared a little figure in cloudy white, with glittering wings,golden hair, and a garland of roses on its head. Waving a wand, itsang...
Hither I come,From my airy home,Afar in the silver moon.Take themagic spell,And use it well,Or its power will vanish soon!
And dropping a small, gilded bottle at the witch's feet, thespirit vanished. Another chant from Hagar produced anotherapparition, not a lovely one, for with a bang an ugly black impappeared and,having croaked a reply, tossed a dark bottle at Hugoand disappeared with a mocking laugh. Having warbled his thanks andput the potions in his boots, Hugo departed, and Hagar informed theaudience that as he had killed a few of her friends in timespast,she had cursed him, and intends to thwart his plans, and berevenged on him. Then the curtain fell, and the audience reposedand ate candy while discussing the merits of the play.
A good deal of hammering went on before the curtain rose again,but when itbecame evident what a masterpiece of stage carpenteryhad been got up, no one murmured at the delay. It was truly superb.A tower rose to the ceiling, halfway up appeared a window with alamp burning in it, and behind the white curtain appeared Zara inalovely blue and silver dress, waiting for Roderigo. He came ingorgeous array, with plumed cap, red cloak, chestnut lovelocks, aguitar, and the boots, of course. Kneeling at the foot of thetower, he sang a serenade in melting tones. Zara replied and, aftera musical dialogue, consented to fly. Then came the grand effect ofthe play. Roderigo produced a rope ladder, with five steps to it,threw up one end, and invited Zara to descend. Timidly she creptfrom her lattice, put her hand on Roderigo's shoulder,and was aboutto leap gracefully down when "Alas! Alas for Zara!" she forgot hertrain. It caught in the window, the tower tottered, leaned forward,fell with a crash, and buried the unhappy lovers in the ruins.
A universal shriek arose as the russet boots waved wildly fromthe wreck and a golden head emerged, exclaiming, "I told you so! Itold you so!" With wonderful presence of mind, Don Pedro, the cruelsire, rushed in, dragged out his daughter, with a hastyaside...
"Don't laugh! Act as if it was all right!" and, orderingRoderigo up, banished him from the kingdom with wrath and scorn.Though decidedly shaken by the fall from the tower upon him,Roderigo defied the old gentleman and refused to stir. Thisdauntless example fired Zara. She also defied hersire, and heordered them both to the deepest dungeons of the castle. A stoutlittle retainer came in with chains and led them away, looking verymuch frightened and evidently forgetting the speech he ought tohave made.
Act third was the castle hall, andhere Hagar appeared, havingcome to free the lovers and finish Hugo. She hears him coming andhides, sees him put the potions into two cups of wine and bid thetimid little servant, "Bear them to the captives in their cells,and tell them I shall come anon." The servant takes Hugo aside totell him something, and Hagar changes the cups for two others whichare harmless. Ferdinando, the 'minion', carries them away, andHagar puts back the cup which holds the poison meant for Roderigo.Hugo, getting thirstyafter a long warble, drinks it, loses hiswits, and after a good deal of clutching and stamping, falls flatand dies, while Hagar informs him what she has done in a song ofexquisite power and melody.
This was a truly thrilling scene, though some persons might havethought that the sudden tumbling down of a quantity of long redhair rather marred the effect of the villain's death. He was calledbefore the curtain, and with great propriety appeared, leadingHagar, whose singing was considered more wonderfulthan all the restof the performance put together.
Act fourth displayed the despairing Roderigo on the point ofstabbing himself because he has been told that Zara has desertedhim. Just as the dagger is at his heart, a lovely song is sungunder his window, informing him that Zara is true but in danger,and he can save her if he will. A key is thrown in, which unlocksthe door, and in a spasm of rapture he tears off his chains andrushes away to find and rescue his lady love.
Act fifth opened with a stormyscene between Zara and Don Pedro.He wishes her to go into a convent, but she won't hear of it, andafter a touching appeal, is about to faint when Roderigo dashes inand demands her hand. Don Pedro refuses, because he is not rich.They shout and gesticulate tremendously but cannot agree, andRodrigo is about to bear away the exhausted Zara, when the timidservant enters with a letter and a bag from Hagar, who hasmysteriously disappeared. The latter informs the party that shebequeaths untold wealth to theyoung pair and an awful doom to DonPedro, if he doesn't make them happy. The bag is opened, andseveral quarts of tin money shower down upon the stage till it isquite glorified with the glitter. This entirely softens the sternsire. He consents withouta murmur, all join in a joyful chorus, andthe curtain falls upon the lovers kneeling to receive Don Pedro'sblessing in attitudes of the most romantic grace.
Tumultuous applause followed but received an unexpected check,for the cot bed, on which the dress circle was built, suddenly shutup and extinguished the enthusiastic audience. Roderigo and DonPedro flew to the rescue, and all were taken out unhurt, thoughmany were speechless with laughter. The excitement had hardlysubsided when Hannah appeared, with "Mrs. March's compliments, andwould the ladies walk down to supper."
This was a surprise even to the actors, and when they saw thetable, they looked at one another in rapturous amazement. It waslike Marmee to get up a little treat for them, but anything so fineas this was unheard of since the departed days of plenty. There wasice cream, actually two dishes of it, pink and white, and cake andfruit and distracting French bonbons and, in the middle of thetable, four great bouquets of hot house flowers.
It quite took their breath away, and they stared first at thetable and then at their mother, who looked as if she enjoyed itimmensely.
"Is it fairies?" asked Amy.
"Santa Claus," said Beth.
"Mother did it." And Meg smiled her sweetest, in spite ofhergray beard and white eyebrows.
"Aunt March had a good fit and sent the supper," cried Jo, witha sudden inspiration.
"All wrong. Old Mr. Laurence sent it," replied Mrs. March.
"The Laurence boy's grandfather! What in the world put such athing into hishead? We don't know him!" exclaimed Meg.
"Hannah told one of his servants about your breakfast party. Heis an odd old gentleman, but that pleased him. He knew my fatheryears ago, and he sent me a polite note this afternoon, saying hehoped I would allowhim to express his friendly feeling toward mychildren by sending them a few trifles in honor of the day. I couldnot refuse, and so you have a little feast at night to make up forthe bread-and-milk breakfast."
"That boy put it into his head, I know he did! He's a capitalfellow, and I wish we could get acquainted. He looks as if he'dlike to know us but he's bashful, and Meg is so prim she won't letme speak to him when we pass," said Jo, as the plates went round,and the ice began to melt out of sight, with ohs and ahs ofsatisfaction.
"You mean the people who live in the big house next door, don'tyou?" asked one of the girls. "My mother knows old Mr. Laurence,but says he's very proud and doesn't like to mix with hisneighbors. He keeps his grandson shut up, when he isn't riding orwalking with his tutor, and makes him study very hard. We invitedhim to our party, but he didn't come. Mother says he's very nice,though he never speaks to us girls."
"Our cat ran away once, and he brought her back, and we talkedover the fence, and were getting on capitally, all about cricket,and so on, when he saw Meg coming, and walked off. I mean to knowhim some day, for he needs fun, I'm sure he does," said Jodecidedly.
"I like his manners, and he looks like a littlegentleman, soI've no objection to your knowing him, if a proper opportunitycomes. He brought the flowers himself, and I should haveasked himin, if I had been sure what was going on upstairs. He looked sowistful as he went away, hearing the frolic andevidently havingnone of his own."
"It's a mercy you didn't, Mother!" laughed Jo, looking at herboots. "But we'll have another play sometime that he can see.Perhaps he'll help act. Wouldn't that be jolly?"
"I never had such a fine bouquet before! How pretty it is!" AndMeg examined her flowers with great interest.
"They are lovely. But Beth's roses are sweeter to me," said Mrs.March, smelling the half-dead posy in her belt.
Beth nestled up to her, and whispered softly, "I wish I couldsend my bunch to Father. I'm afraid he isn't having such a merryChristmas as we are."
"Jo! Jo! Where are you?" cried Meg at the foot of the garretstairs.
"Here!" answered a husky voice from above, and, running up, Megfound her sistereating apples and crying over the Heir ofRedclyffe, wrapped up in a comforter on an old three-legged sofa bythe sunny window. This was Jo's favorite refuge, and here she lovedto retire with half a dozen russets and a nice book, to enjoy thequiet and the society of a pet rat who lived near by and didn'tmind her a particle. As Meg appeared, Scrabble whisked into hishole. Jo shook the tears off her cheeks and waited to hear thenews.
"Such fun! Only see! A regular note of invitation from Mrs.Gardiner for tomorrow night!" cried Meg, waving the precious paperand then proceeding to read it with girlish delight.
"'Mrs. Gardiner would be happy to see Miss March and MissJosephine at a little dance on New Year's Eve.' Marmee is willingwe should go, now whatshall we wear?"
"What's the use of asking that, when you know we shall wear ourpoplins, because we haven't got anything else?" answered Jo withher mouth full.
"If I only had a silk!" sighed Meg. "Mother says I may when I'meighteen perhaps, but two yearsis an everlasting time to wait."
"I'm sure our pops look like silk, and they are nice enough forus. Yours is as good as new, but I forgot the burn and the tear inmine. Whatever shall I do? The burn shows badly, and I can't takeany out."
"You must sit still all you can and keep your back out of sight.The front is all right. I shall have a new ribbon for my hair, andMarmee will lend me her little pearl pin, and my new slippers arelovely, and my gloves will do, though they aren't as nice as I'dlike."
"Mine are spoiled with lemonade, and I can't get any new ones,so I shall have to go without," said Jo, who never troubled herselfmuch about dress.
"You must have gloves, or I won't go," cried Meg decidedly."Gloves are more important than anything else. You can't dancewithout them, and if you don't I should be so mortified."
"Then I'll stay still. I don't care much for company dancing.It's no fun to go sailing round. I like to fly about and cutcapers."
"You can't ask Mother for new ones, they are so expensive, andyou are so careless. She said when you spoiled the others that sheshouldn't get you any more this winter. Can't you make themdo?"
"I can hold them crumpled up in my hand, so no one will know howstained they are. That's all I can do. No! I'lltell you how we canmanage, each wear one good one and carry a bad one. Don't yousee?"
"Your hands are bigger than mine, and you will stretch my glovedreadfully," began Meg, whose gloves were a tender point withher.
"Then I'll go without. I don't carewhat people say!" cried Jo,taking up her book.
"You may have it, you may! Only don't stain it, and do behavenicely. Don't put your hands behind you, or stare, or say'Christopher Columbus!' will you?"
"Don't worry about me. I'll be as prim as I can andnot get intoany scrapes, if I can help it. Now go and answer your note, and letme finish this splendid story."
So Meg went away to 'accept with thanks', look over her dress,and sing blithely as she did up her one real lace frill, while Jofinished her story, her four apples, and had a game of romps withScrabble.
On New Year's Eve the parlor was deserted, for the two youngergirls played dressing maids and the two elder were absorbed in theall-important business of 'getting ready for the party'. Simpleasthe toilets were, there was a great deal of running up and down,laughing and talking, and at one time a strong smell of burned hairpervaded the house. Meg wanted a few curls about her face, and Joundertook to pinch the papered locks with a pair of hot tongs.
"Ought they to smoke like that?" asked Beth from her perch onthe bed.
"It's the dampness drying," replied Jo.
"What a queer smell! It's like burned feathers," observed Amy,smoothing her own pretty curls with a superior air.
"There, now I'll takeoff the papers and you'll see a cloud oflittle ringlets," said Jo, putting down the tongs.
She did take off the papers, but no cloud of ringlets appeared,for the hair came with the papers, and the horrified hairdresserlaid a row of little scorched bundles on the bureau before hervictim.
"Oh, oh, oh! What have you done? I'm spoiled! I can't go! Myhair, oh, my hair!" wailed Meg, looking with despair at the unevenfrizzle on her forehead.
"Just my luck! You shouldn't have asked me to do it. I alwaysspoil everything. I'm so sorry, but the tongs were too hot, and soI've made a mess," groaned poor Jo, regarding the little blackpancakes with tears of regret.
"It isn't spoiled. Just frizzle it, and tie your ribbon so theends come on your forehead a bit, and it will look like the lastfashion. I've seen many girls do it so," said Amy consolingly.
"Serves me right for trying to be fine. I wish I'd let my hairalone," cried Meg petulantly.
"So do I, it was so smooth and pretty. But it will soon grow outagain," said Beth, coming to kiss and comfort the shorn sheep.
After various lesser mishaps, Meg was finished at last, and bythe united exertions of the entire family Jo's hair was got up andher dress on. They looked very well in their simple suits, Meg's insilvery drab, with a blue velvet snood, lace frills, and the pearlpin. Jo in maroon, with a stiff, gentlemanly linen collar, and awhite chrysanthemum or two for her only ornament. Each put on onenice light glove, and carried one soiled one, and all pronouncedthe effect "quite easy and fine". Meg's high-heeled slippers werevery tight and hurt her, though she would not own it, and Jo'snineteen hairpins all seemed stuck straight into her head, whichwas not exactly comfortable, but, dear me, let us be elegant ordie.
"Have a good time, dearies!" said Mrs. March, as the sisterswent daintily down the walk. "Don't eat much supper, and come awayat eleven when I send Hannah for you." As the gate clashed behindthem, a voice cried from a window...
"Girls, girls! Have you you both got nice pockethandkerchiefs?"
"Yes, yes, spandy nice, and Meg has cologne on hers," cried Jo,adding with a laugh as they went on, "I do believe Marmee would askthat if we were all running away from an earthquake."
"It is one of heraristocratic tastes, and quite proper, for areal lady is always known by neat boots, gloves, and handkerchief,"replied Meg, who had a good many little 'aristocratic tastes' ofher own.
"Now don't forget to keep the bad breadth out of sight, Jo. Ismy sash right? And does my hair look very bad?" said Meg, as sheturned from the glass in Mrs. Gardiner's dressing room after aprolonged prink.
"I know I shall forget. If you see me doing anything wrong, justremind me by a wink, will you?" returned Jo, givingher collar atwitch and her head a hasty brush.
"No, winking isn't ladylike. I'll lift my eyebrows if any thingis wrong, and nod if you are all right. Now hold your shoulderstraight, and take short steps, and don't shake hands if you areintroduced to anyone. It isn't the thing."
"How do you learn all the proper ways? I never can. Isn't thatmusic gay?"
Down they went, feeling a trifle timid, for they seldom went toparties, and informal as this little gathering was, it was an eventto them. Mrs. Gardiner, a stately old lady, greeted them kindly andhanded them over to the eldest of her six daughters. Meg knewSallie and was at her ease very soon, but Jo, who didn't care muchfor girls or girlish gossip, stood about, with her back carefullyagainst the wall, and felt as much out of place as a colt in aflower garden. Half a dozen jovial lads were talking about skatesin another part of the room, and she longed to go and join them,for skating was one of the joys of her life. She telegraphed herwish to Meg, but the eyebrows went up so alarmingly that she darednot stir. No one came to talk to her, and one by one the groupdwindled away till she was left alone. She could not roam about andamuse herself, for the burned breadth would show, so she stared atpeople rather forlornly till the dancing began. Meg was asked atonce, and the tight slippers tripped about so briskly that nonewould have guessed the pain their wearer suffered smilingly. Jo sawa big red headed youth approaching her corner, and fearing hemeantto engage her, she slipped into a curtained recess, intending topeep and enjoy herself in peace. Unfortunately, another bashfulperson had chosen the same refuge, for, as the curtain fell behindher, she found herself face to face with the 'Laurence boy'.
"Dear me, I didn't know anyone was here!" stammered Jo,preparing to back out as speedily as she had bounced in.
But the boy laughed and said pleasantly, though he looked alittle startled, "Don't mind me, stay if you like."
"Shan't I disturb you?"
"Not a bit. I only came here because I don't know many peopleand felt rather strange at first, you know."
"So did I. Don't go away, please, unless you'd rather."
The boy sat down again and looked at his pumps, till Jo said,trying to be polite and easy,"I think I've had the pleasure ofseeing you before. You live near us, don't you?"
"Next door." And he looked up and laughed outright, for Jo'sprim manner was rather funny when he remembered how they hadchatted about cricket when he brought the cat home.
That put Jo at her ease and she laughed too, as she said, in herheartiest way, "We did have such a good time over your niceChristmas present."
"Grandpa sent it."
"But you put it into his head, didn't you, now?"
"How is your cat, Miss March?" asked the boy, trying to looksober while his black eyes shone with fun.
"Nicely, thank you, Mr. Laurence. But I am not Miss March, I'monly Jo," returned the young lady.
"I'm not Mr. Laurence, I'm only Laurie."
"Laurie Laurence, what an odd name."
"My first name isTheodore, but I don't like it, for the fellowscalled me Dora, so I made them say Laurie instead."
"I hate my name, too, so sentimental! I wish every one would sayJo instead of Josephine. How did you make the boys stop calling youDora?"
"I thrashed 'em."
"I can't thrash Aunt March, so I suppose I shall have to bearit." And Jo resigned herself with a sigh.
"Don't you like to dance, Miss Jo?" asked Laurie, looking as ifhe thought the name suited her.
"I like it well enough if there is plenty of room, andeveryoneis lively. In a place like this I'm sure to upset something, treadon people's toes, or do something dreadful, so I keep out ofmischief and let Meg sail about. Don't you dance?"
"Sometimes. You see I've been abroad a good many years, andhaven'tbeen into company enough yet to know how you do thingshere."
"Abroad!" cried Jo. "Oh, tell me about it! I love dearly to hearpeople describe their travels."
Laurie didn't seem to know where to begin, but Jo's eagerquestions soon set him going, and he told her how he had been atschool in Vevay, where the boys never wore hats and had a fleet ofboats on the lake, and for holiday fun went on walking trips aboutSwitzerland with their teachers.
"Don't I wish I'd been there!" cried Jo. "Did you go toParis?"
"We spent last winter there."
"Can you talk French?"
"We were not allowed to speak anything else at Vevay."
"Do say some! I can read it, but can't pronounce."
"Quel nom a cette jeune demoiselle en les pantoufles jolis?"
"How nicely you do it! Let me see ... you said, 'Who is theyoung lady in the pretty slippers', didn't you?"
"It's my sister Margaret, and you knew it was! Do you think sheis pretty?"
"Yes, she makes me think of the German girls, she looks so freshand quiet, and dances like a lady."
Jo quite glowed with pleasure at this boyish praise of hersister, and stored it up to repeat to Meg. Both peeped andcriticized and chatted till they felt like old acquaintances.Laurie's bashfulness soon wore off, for Jo's gentlemanly demeanoramused and set him at his ease, and Jo was her merry self again,because her dress was forgotten and nobody lifted their eyebrows ather. She liked the 'Laurence boy' better than ever and took severalgood looks at him, so that she might describe himto the girls, forthey had no brothers, very few male cousins, and boys were almostunknown creatures to them.
"Curly black hair, brown skin, big black eyes, handsome nose,fine teeth, small hands and feet, taller than I am, very polite,for a boy, and altogether jolly. Wonder how old he is?"
It was on the tip of Jo's tongue to ask, but she checked herselfin time and, with unusual tact, tried to find out in a round-aboutway.
"I suppose you are going to college soon? I see you pegging awayat your books,no, I mean studying hard." And Jo blushed at thedreadful 'pegging' which had escaped her.
Laurie smiled but didn't seem shocked, and answered with ashrug. "Not for a year or two. I won't go before seventeen,anyway."
"Aren't you but fifteen?" asked Jo, looking at the tall lad,whom she had imagined seventeen already.
"Sixteen, next month."
"How I wish I was going to college! You don't look as if youliked it."
"I hate it! Nothing but grinding or skylarking. And I don't likethe way fellows do either, in this country."
"What do you like?"
"To live in Italy, and to enjoy myself in my own way."
Jo wanted very much to ask what his own way was, but his blackbrows looked rather threatening as he knit them, so she changed thesubject by saying, as her foot kepttime, "That's a splendid polka!Why don't you go and try it?"
"If you will come too," he answered, with a gallant littlebow.
"I can't, for I told Meg I wouldn't, because..." There Jostopped, and looked undecided whether to tell or to laugh.
"You won't tell?"
"Well, I have a bad trick of standing before the fire, and so Iburn my frocks, and I scorched this one, and though it's nicelymended, it shows, and Meg told me to keep still so no one would seeit. You may laugh, if you want to. It is funny, I know."
But Laurie didn't laugh. He only looked down a minute, and theexpression of his face puzzled Jo when he said very gently, "Nevermind that. I'll tell you how we can manage. There's a long hall outthere, and we can dance grandly, and no one will see us. Pleasecome."
Jo thanked him and gladly went, wishing she had two neat gloveswhen she saw the nice, pearl-colored ones her partner wore. Thehall was empty, and they had a grand polka, for Laurie danced well,and taught her theGerman step, which delighted Jo, being full ofswing and spring. When the music stopped, they sat down on thestairs to get their breath, and Laurie was in the midst of anaccount of a students' festival at Heidelberg when Meg appeared insearch of her sister. She beckoned, and Jo reluctantly followed herinto a side room, where she found her on a sofa, holding her foot,and looking pale.
"I've sprained my ankle. That stupid high heel turned and gaveme a sad wrench. It aches so, I can hardly stand, and I don't knowhow I'm ever going to get home," she said, rocking to and fro inpain.
"I knew you'd hurt your feet with those silly shoes. I'm sorry.But I don't see what you can do, except get a carriage, or stayhere all night," answered Jo, softly rubbing the poor ankle as shespoke.
"I can't have a carriage without its costing ever so much. Idare say I can't get one at all, for most people come in their own,and it's a long way to the stable, and no one to send."
"No, indeed! It's past nine, anddark as Egypt. I can't stophere, for the house is full. Sallie has some girls staying withher. I'll rest till Hannah comes, and then do the best I can."
"I'll ask Laurie. He will go," said Jo, looking relieved as theidea occurred to her.
"Mercy, no! Don't ask or tell anyone. Get me my rubbers, and putthese slippers with our things. I can't dance anymore, but as soonas supper is over, watch for Hannah and tell me the minute shecomes."
"They are going out to supper now. I'll stay with you. I'drather."
"No, dear, run along, and bring me some coffee. I'm so tired Ican't stir."
So Meg reclined, with rubbers well hidden, and Jo wentblundering away to the dining room, which she found after goinginto a china closet, and opening the door of a room where oldMr.Gardiner was taking a little private refreshment. Making a dart atthe table, she secured the coffee, which she immediately spilled,thereby making the front of her dress as bad as the back.
"Oh, dear, what a blunderbuss I am!" exclaimed Jo,finishingMeg's glove by scrubbing her gown with it.
"Can I help you?" said a friendly voice. And there was Laurie,with a full cup in one hand and a plate of ice in the other.
"I was trying to get something for Meg, who is very tired, andsomeone shook me, andhere I am in a nice state," answered Jo,glancing dismally from the stained skirt to the coffee-coloredglove.
"Too bad! I was looking for someone to give this to. May I takeit to your sister?"
"Oh, thank you! I'll show you where she is. I don't offer totakeit myself, for I should only get into another scrape if I did."
Jo led the way, and as if used to waiting on ladies, Laurie drewup a little table, brought a second installment of coffee and icefor Jo, and was so obliging that even particular Meg pronounced hima 'nice boy'. They had a merry time over the bonbons and mottoes,and were in the midst of a quiet game ofBuzz, with two or threeother young people who had strayed in, when Hannah appeared. Megforgot her foot and rose so quickly that she wasforced to catchhold of Jo, with an exclamation of pain.
"Hush! Don't say anything," she whispered, adding aloud, "It'snothing. I turned my foot a little, that's all," and limpedupstairs to put her things on.
Hannah scolded, Meg cried, and Jo was at herwits' end, till shedecided to take things into her own hands. Slipping out, she randown and, finding a servant, asked if he could get her a carriage.It happened to be a hired waiter who knew nothing about theneighborhood and Jo was looking round for help when Laurie, who hadheard what she said, came up and offered his grandfather'scarriage, which had just come for him, he said.
"It's so early! You can't mean to go yet?" began Jo, lookingrelieved but hesitating to accept the offer.
"I always go early, I do, truly! Please let me take you home.It's all on my way, you know, and it rains, they say."
That settled it, and telling him of Meg's mishap, Jo gratefullyaccepted and rushed up to bring down the rest of the party. Hannahhated rain as much as a cat does so she made no trouble, and theyrolled away in the luxurious close carriage, feeling very festiveand elegant. Laurie went on the box so Meg could keep her foot up,and the girls talked over their party in freedom.
"I had a capital time. Did you?"asked Jo, rumpling up her hair,and making herself comfortable.
"Yes, till I hurt myself. Sallie's friend, Annie Moffat, took afancy to me, and asked me to come and spend a week with her whenSallie does. She is going in the spring when the opera comes, andit will be perfectly splendid, if Mother only lets me go," answeredMeg, cheering up at the thought.
"I saw you dancing with the red headed man I ran away from. Washe nice?"
"Oh, very! His hair is auburn, not red, and he was very polite,and I had a delicious redowa with him."
"He looked like a grasshopper in a fit when he did the new step.Laurie and I couldn't help laughing. Did you hear us?"
"No, but it was very rude. What were you about all that time,hidden away there?"
Jo told her adventures, andby the time she had finished theywere at home. With many thanks, they said good night and crept in,hoping to disturb no one, but the instant their door creaked, twolittle nightcaps bobbed up, and two sleepy but eager voices criedout...
"Tell about theparty! Tell about the party!"
With what Meg called 'a great want of manners' Jo had saved somebonbons for the little girls, and they soon subsided, after hearingthe most thrilling events of the evening.