Part 1 out of 11
by Louisa May Alcott
"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled
Jo, lying on the rug.
"It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg, looking down at
her old dress.
"I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of
pretty things, and other girls nothing at all," added little
Amy, with an injured sniff.
"We've got Father and Mother, and each other," said Beth
contentedly from her corner.
The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened
at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly,
"We haven't got Father, and shall not have him for a long time."
She didn't say "perhaps never," but each silently added it, thinking
of Father 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 this
Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for everyone;
and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when
our men are suffering so in the army. We can't do much, but we can
make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am
afraid I don't," and Meg shook her head, as she thought regretfully
of all the 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
by our giving that. I agree not to expect anything from Mother or
you, but I do want to buy _Undine and Sintran_ for myself. I've
wanted it so long," said Jo, who was a bookworm.
"I planned to spend mine in new music," said Beth, with a
little sigh, which no one heard but the hearth brush and kettle-holder.
"I shall get a nice box of Faber's drawing pencils; I
really need them," said Amy decidedly.
"Mother didn't say anything about our money, and she won't
wish us to give up everything. Let's each buy what we want, and
have a little fun; I'm sure we work 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 all
day, when I'm longing to enjoy myself at home," began Meg, in the
complaining tone again.
"You don't have half such a hard time as I do," said Jo.
"How would you like to be shut up for hours with a nervous, fussy
old lady, who keeps you trotting, is never satisfied, and worries
you till you're ready to fly out the window or cry?"
"It's naughty to fret, but I do think washing dishes and
keeping things tidy is the worst work in the world. It makes me
cross, and my hands get so stiff, I can't practice well at all."
And Beth looked at her rough hands with a sigh that any one could
hear that time.
"I don't believe any of you suffer as I do," cried Amy, "for
you don't have to go to school with impertinent girls, who plague
you if you don't know your lessons, and laugh at your dresses, and
label your father if he isn't rich, and insult you when your nose
"If you mean libel, I'd say so, and not talk about labels, as
if Papa 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 the money Papa lost when we were little, Jo? Dear me! How
happy and good we'd be, if we had no worries!" said Meg, who
could remember better times.
"You said the other day you thought we were a deal happier
than the King children, for they were fighting and fretting all
the time, in spite of their money."
"So I did, Beth. Well, I think we are. For though we do
have to work, we make fun of ourselves, and are a pretty jolly
set, as Jo would say."
"Jo does use such slang words!" observed Amy, with a
reproving look at the long figure stretched on the rug.
Jo immediately sat up, put her hands in her pockets, and
began to 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,
beginning to lecture in her elder-sisterly fashion. "You are old
enough to leave off boyish tricks, and to behave better,
Josephine. It didn't matter so much when you were a little
girl, but now you are so tall, and turn up your hair, you should
remember that you are a young lady."
"I'm not! And if turning up my hair makes me one, I'll
wear it in two tails till I'm twenty," cried Jo, pulling off
her net, and shaking down a chestnut mane. "I hate to think
I've got to grow up, and be Miss March, and wear long gowns,
and look as prim as a China Aster! It's bad enough to be a
girl, anyway, when I like boy's games and work and manners! I
can't get over my disappointment 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 home and knit, like a poky old woman!"
And Jo shook the blue army sock till the needles rattled
like castanets, and her ball bounded across the room.
"Poor Jo! It's too bad, but it can't be helped. So you
must try to be contented with making your name boyish, and
playing brother to us girls," said Beth, stroking the rough
head with a hand that all the dish washing and dusting in the
world could not make ungentle in its touch.
"As for you, Amy," continued Meg, "you are altogether
to particular and prim. Your airs are funny now, but you'll
grow up an affected little goose, if you don't take care.
I like your nice manners and refined ways of speaking, when
you don't try to be elegant. But your absurd words are as bad
as Jo's slang."
"If Jo is a tomboy and Amy a goose, what am I, please?"
asked Beth, ready to share the lecture.
"You're a dear, and nothing else," answered Meg warmly,
and no one contradicted her, for the 'Mouse' was the pet of the
As young readers like to know 'how people look', we will
take this moment to give them a little sketch of the four
sisters, who sat knitting away in the twilight, while the
December snow fell quietly without, and the fire crackled
cheerfully within. It was a comfortable room, though the carpet
was faded and the furniture very plain, for a good picture or
two hung on the walls, books filled the recesses, chrysanthemums
and Christmas roses bloomed in the windows, and a pleasant
atmosphere of home peace pervaded it.
Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty,
being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a
sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain. Fifteen-
year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a
colt, for she never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs,
which were very much in her way. She had a decided mouth, a comical
nose, and sharp, gray eyes, which appeared to see everything, and
were by turns fierce, funny, or thoughtful. Her long, thick hair
was her one beauty, but it was usually bundled into a net, to be
out of her way. Round shoulders had Jo, big hands and feet,
a flyaway look to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of
a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn't like it.
Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, was a rosy, smooth-
haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid
voice, and a peaceful expression which was seldom disturbed. Her
father called her 'Little Miss Tranquility', and the name suited
her excellently, for she seemed to live in a happy world of her
own, only venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted and loved.
Amy, though the youngest, was a most important person, in her own
opinion at least. A regular snow maiden, with blue eyes, and
yellow hair curling on her shoulders, pale and slender, and always
carrying herself like a young lady mindful of her manners. What
the characters of the four sisters were we will leave to be found out.
The clock struck six and, having swept up the hearth, Beth
put a pair of slippers down to warm. Somehow the sight of the old
shoes had a good effect upon the girls, for Mother was coming, and
everyone brightened to welcome her. Meg stopped lecturing, and
lighted the lamp, Amy got out of the easy chair without being asked,
and Jo forgot how tired she was as she sat up to hold the slippers
nearer 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'm the man of the family now Papa is away, and I shall provide
the slippers, for he told me to take special care of Mother while
he was gone."
"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Beth, "let's each get her
something 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
if the idea was suggested by the sight of her own pretty hands,
"I shall 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't
cost much, so I'll have some left to buy my pencils," added Amy.
"How will we give the things?" asked Meg.
"Put them on the table, and bring her in and see her open
the bundles. 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 in the
chair with the crown on, and see you all come marching round to
give 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 opened
the bundles," said Beth, who was toasting her face and the bread
for tea at the same time.
"Let Marmee think we are getting things for ourselves, and
then surprise her. We must go shopping tomorrow afternoon, Meg.
There is so much to do about the play for Christmas night," said
Jo, marching up and down, with her hands behind her back, and her
nose in the air.
"I don't mean to act any more after this time. I'm getting
too old for such things," observed Meg, who was as much a child
as ever about 'dressing-up' frolics.
"You won't stop, I know, as long as you can trail round in a
white gown with your hair down, and wear gold-paper jewelry.
You are the best actress we've got, and there'll be an end
of everything if you quit the boards," said Jo. "We ought
to rehearse tonight. Come here, Amy, and do the fainting scene,
for you are as stiff as a poker in that."
"I can't help it. I never saw anyone faint, and I don't choose
to make myself all black and blue, tumbling flat as you do. If I
can go down easily, I'll drop. If I can't, I shall fall into a
chair and be graceful. I don't care if Hugo does come at me with
a pistol," returned Amy, who was not gifted with dramatic power,
but was chosen because she was small enough to be borne out shrieking
by the villain of the piece.
"Do it this way. Clasp your hands so, and stagger across the
room, crying frantically, 'Roderigo! Save me! Save me!'" and away
went 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, and her "Ow!"
was more suggestive of pins being run into her than of fear and
anguish. 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
the audience laughs, don't blame me. Come on, Meg."
Then things went smoothly, for Don Pedro defied the world in
a speech of two pages without a single break. Hagar, the witch,
chanted an awful incantation over her kettleful of simmering toads,
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
sat up and rubbed his elbows.
"I don't see how you can write and act such splendid things,
Jo. You're a regular Shakespeare!" exclaimed Beth, who firmly
believed that her sisters were gifted with wonderful genius in all
"Not quite," replied Jo modestly. "I do think _The Witches Curse,
an Operatic Tragedy_ is rather a nice thing, but I'd like to try
_Macbeth_, if we only had a trapdoor for Banquo. I always wanted to
do the killing part. 'Is that a dagger that I see before me?"
muttered Jo, rolling her eyes and clutching at the air, as she had
seen a famous tragedian do.
"No, it's the toasting fork, with Mother's shoe on it instead
of the bread. Beth's stage-struck!" cried Meg, and the rehearsal
ended in a general burst of laughter.
"Glad to find you so merry, my girls," said a cheery voice at
the door, and actors and audience turned to welcome a tall, motherly
lady with a 'can I help you' look about her which was truly delightful.
She was not elegantly dressed, but a noble-looking woman, and the
girls thought the gray cloak and unfashionable bonnet covered the most
splendid mother in the world.
"Well, dearies, how have you got on today? There was so much to
do, getting the boxes ready to go tomorrow, that I didn't come home
to dinner. Has anyone called, Beth? How is your cold, Meg? Jo,
you look tired to death. Come and kiss me, baby."
While making these maternal inquiries Mrs. March got her wet
things off, her warm slippers on, and sitting down in the easy
chair, drew Amy to her lap, preparing to enjoy the happiest hour
of her busy day. The girls flew about, trying to make things
comfortable, each in her own way. Meg arranged the tea table, Jo
brought wood and set chairs, dropping, over-turning, and clattering
everything she touched. Beth trotted to and fro between parlor
kitchen, quiet and busy, while Amy gave directions to everyone, as
she sat with her hands folded.
As they gathered about the table, Mrs. March said, with a
particularly happy face, "I've got a treat for you after supper."
A quick, bright smile went round like a streak of sunshine.
Beth clapped her hands, regardless of the biscuit she held,
and Jo tossed up her napkin, crying, "A letter! A letter! Three
cheers for Father!"
"Yes, a nice long letter. He is well, and thinks he shall
get through the cold season better than we feared. He sends all
sorts of loving wishes for Christmas, and an especial message
to you girls," said Mrs. March, patting her pocket as if she
had got a treasure there.
"Hurry and get done! Don't stop to quirk your little finger
and simper over your plate, Amy," cried Jo, choking on her tea
and dropping her bread, butter side down, on the carpet in her
haste to get at the treat.
Beth ate no more, but crept away to sit in her shadowy corner
and brood over the delight to come, till the others were ready.
"I think it was so splendid in Father to go as chaplain
when he was 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 its
name? Or a nurse, so I could be near him and help him," exclaimed
Jo, with a groan.
"It must be very disagreeable to sleep in a tent, and eat
all sorts of bad-tasting things, and drink out of a tin mug,"
"When will he come home, Marmee?" asked Beth, with a little
quiver in her voice.
"Not for many months, dear, unless he is sick. He will stay
and do his work faithfully as long as he can, and we won't ask
for him back a minute sooner than he can be spared. Now come and
hear the letter."
They all drew to the fire, Mother in the big chair with Beth
at her feet, Meg and Amy perched on either arm of the chair, and
Jo leaning on the back, where no one would see any sign of emotion
if the letter should happen to be touching. Very few letters were
written in those hard times that were not touching, especially
those which fathers sent home. In this one little was said of the
hardships endured, the dangers faced, or the homesickness conquered.
It was a cheerful, hopeful letter, full of lively descriptions
of camp life, marches, and military news, and only at the end
did the writer's heart over-flow with fatherly love and longing
for the little girls at home.
"Give them all of my dear love and a kiss. Tell them I think
of them by day, pray for them by night, and find my best comfort
in their affection at all times. A year seems very long to wait
before I see them, but remind them that while we wait we may all
work, so that these hard days need not be wasted. I know they will
remember all I said to them, that they will be loving children to
you, will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely,
and conquer themselves so beautifully that when I come back to them
I may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little women."
Everybody sniffed when they came to that part. Jo wasn't
ashamed of the great tear that dropped off the end of her nose, and
Amy never minded the rumpling of her curls as she hid her face on
her mother's shoulder and sobbed out, "I am a selfish girl! But
I'll truly try to be better, so he mayn't be disappointed in me
"We all will," cried Meg. "I think too much of my looks and
hate to 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'
and not be rough and wild, but do my duty here instead of wanting
to be somewhere else," said Jo, thinking that keeping her temper
at home was a much harder task than facing a rebel or two down South.
Beth said nothing, but wiped away her tears with the blue army
sock and began to knit with all her might, losing no time in doing
the duty that lay nearest her, while she resolved in her quiet
little soul to be all that Father hoped to find her when the year
brought round the happy coming home.
Mrs. March broke the silence that followed Jo's words, by
saying in her cheery voice, "Do you remember how you used to play
Pilgrims Progress when you were little things? Nothing delighted
you more than to have me tie my piece bags on your backs for burdens,
give you hats and sticks and rolls of paper, and let you travel
through the house from the cellar, which was the City of Destruction,
up, up, to the housetop, where you had all the lovely things you
could collect to make a Celestial City."
"What fun it was, especially going by the lions, fighting
Apollyon, and passing through the valley where the hob-goblins
were," said Jo.
"I liked the place where the bundles fell off and tumbled
downstairs," said Meg.
"I don't remember much about it, except that I was afraid of
the cellar and the dark entry, and always liked the cake and milk
we had up at the top. If I wasn't too old for such things, I'd
rather like to play it over again," said Amy, who began to talk
of renouncing childish things at the mature age of twelve.
"We never are too old for this, my dear, because it is a play
we are playing all the time in one way or another. Our burdens are
here, our road is before us, and the longing for goodness and
happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and
mistakes to the peace which is a true Celestial City. Now, my little
pilgrims, suppose you begin again, not in play, but in earnest,
and see how far on you can get before Father comes home."
"Really, Mother? Where are our bundles?" asked Amy, who was
a very literal young lady.
"Each of you told what your burden was just now, except Beth.
I rather think she hasn't got any," said her mother.
"Yes, I have. Mine is dishes and dusters, and envying girls
with nice pianos, and being afraid of people."
Beth's bundle was such a funny one that everybody wanted to
laugh, but nobody did, for it would have hurt her feelings very
"Let us do it," said Meg thoughtfully. "It is only another
name for trying to be good, and the story may help us, for though
we do want to be good, it's hard work and we forget, and don't do
"We were in the Slough of Despond tonight, and Mother came
and pulled us out as Help did in the book. We ought to have our
roll of directions, like Christian. What shall we do about that?"
asked Jo, delighted with the fancy which lent a little romance to
the very dull task of doing her duty.
"Look under your pillows Christmas morning, and you will
find your guidebook," replied Mrs. March.
They talked over the new plan while old Hannah cleared the
table, then out came the four little work baskets, and the needles
flew as the girls made sheets for Aunt March. It was uninteresting
sewing, but tonight no one grumbled. They adopted Jo's plan of
dividing the long seams into four parts, and calling the quarters
Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and in that way got on capitally,
especially when they talked about the different countries as they
stitched their way through them.
At nine they stopped work, and sang, as usual, before they
went to 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 a pleasant accompaniment to the simple songs they sang. Meg
had a voice like a flute, and she and her mother led the little
choir. Amy chirped like a cricket, and Jo wandered through the airs
at her own sweet will, always coming out at the wrong place with a
croak or a quaver that spoiled the most pensive tune. They had
always done this from the time they could lisp . . .
Crinkle, crinkle, 'ittle 'tar,
and it had become a household custom, for the mother was a born
singer. The first sound in the morning was her voice as she went
about the house singing like a lark, and the last sound at night
was the same cheery sound, for the girls never grew too old for
that familiar lullaby.
A MERRY CHRISTMAS
Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning.
No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she
felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little
sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then
she remembered her mother's promise and, slipping her hand under
her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew
it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best
life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for
any pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a "Merry
Christmas," and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-
covered book appeared, with the same picture inside, and a few
words written by their mother, which made their one present very
precious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage
and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other
blue, and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the
east grew rosy with the coming day.
In spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet and
pious nature, which unconsciously influenced her sisters,
especially Jo, who loved her very tenderly, and obeyed her
because her advice was so gently given.
"Girls," said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled head
beside 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
must begin at once. We used to be faithful about it, but since
Father went away and all this war trouble unsettled us, we have
neglected many things. You can do as you please, but I shall keep
my book on the 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
arm round her and, leaning cheek to cheek, read also, with the
quiet expression so seldom seen on her restless face.
"How good Meg is! Come, Amy, let's do as they do. I'll
help you with the hard words, and they'll explain things if we
don't understand," whispered Beth, very much impressed by the
pretty books and her sisters, example.
"I'm glad mine is blue," said Amy. and then the rooms were
very still while the pages were softly turned, and the winter
sunshine crept in to touch the bright heads and serious faces
with a Christmas greeting.
"Where is Mother?" asked Meg, as she and Jo ran down to
thank her for their gifts, half an hour later.
"Goodness only knows. Some poor creeter came a-beggin', and
your ma went straight off to see what was needed. There never was
such a woman 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 have
everything ready," said Meg, looking over the presents which were
collected in a basket and kept under the sofa, ready to be produced
at the proper time. "Why, where is Amy's bottle of cologne?"
she added, as the little flask did not appear.
"She took it out a minute ago, and went off with it to put a
ribbon on it, or some such notion," replied Jo, dancing about the
room to take the first stiffness off the new army slippers.
"How nice my handkerchiefs look, don't they? Hannah washed
and ironed them for me, and I marked them all myself," said Beth,
looking proudly at the somewhat uneven letters which had cost her
"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,
because Meg's initials are M.M., and I don't want anyone to use
these but Marmee," said Beth, looking troubled.
"It's all right, dear, and a very pretty idea, quite sensible
too, 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 door
slammed and steps sounded in the hall.
Amy came in hastily, and looked rather abashed when she saw
her sisters all waiting for her.
"Where have you been, and what are you hiding behind you?"
asked Meg, surprised to see, by her hood and cloak, that lazy Amy
had been out so early.
"Don't laugh at me, Jo! I didn't mean anyone should know till
the time came. I only meant to change the little bottle for a big
one, and I gave all my money to get it, and I'm truly trying not
to be selfish any more."
As she spoke, Amy showed the handsome flask which replaced
the cheap one, and looked so earnest and humble in her little
effort to forget herself that Meg hugged her on the spot, and Jo
pronounced her 'a trump', while Beth ran to the window, and picked
her finest rose to ornament the stately bottle.
"You see I felt ashamed of my present, after reading and talking
about being good this morning, so I ran round the corner and changed
it the minute I was up, and I'm so glad, for mine is the handsomest
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
"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 sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman
with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed
to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to
eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were
suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your
breakfast as a Christmas present?"
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour,
and for a minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimed
impetuously, "I'm so glad you came before we began!"
"May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?"
asked Beth eagerly.
"I shall take the cream and the muffings," added Amy, heroically
giving up the article she most liked.
Meg was already covering the buckwheats, and piling the bread
into one big plate.
"I thought you'd do it," said Mrs. March, smiling as if satisfied.
"You shall all go and help me, and when we come back we will have
bread and milk for breakfast, and make it up at dinnertime."
They were soon ready, and the procession set out. Fortunately
it was early, and they went through back streets, so few people saw
them, and no one laughed at the queer party.
A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no
fire, ragged bedclothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a group
of pale, hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying to
How the big eyes stared and the blue lips smiled as the girls
"Ach, mein Gott! It is good angels come to us!" said the poor
woman, crying for joy.
"Funny angels in hoods and mittens," said Jo, and set them to
In a few minutes it really did seem as if kind spirits had been
at work there. Hannah, who had carried wood, made a fire, and
stopped up the broken panes with old hats and her own cloak. Mrs.
March gave the mother tea and gruel, and comforted her with promises
of help, while she dressed the little baby as tenderly as if it had
been her own. The girls meantime spread the table, set the children
round the fire, and fed them like so many hungry birds, laughing,
talking, and trying to understand the funny broken English.
"Das ist gut!" "Die Engel-kinder!" cried the poor things as
they ate and warmed their purple hands at the comfortable blaze.
The girls had never been called angel children before, and
thought it very agreeable, especially Jo, who had been considered
a 'Sancho' ever since she was born. That was a very happy breakfast,
though they didn't get any of it. And when they went away,
leaving comfort behind, I think there were not in all the city
four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away
their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk
on Christmas morning.
"That's loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and I
like it," said Meg, as they set out their presents while their
mother was upstairs collecting clothes for the poor Hummels.
Not a very splendid show, but there was a great deal of
love done up in the few little bundles, and the tall vase of
red roses, white chrysanthemums, and trailing vines, which
stood in the middle, gave quite an elegant air to the table.
"She's coming! Strike up, Beth! Open the door, Amy! Three
cheers for Marmee!" cried Jo, prancing about while Meg went to
conduct Mother to the seat of honor.
Beth played her gayest march, Amy threw open the door, and
Meg enacted escort with great dignity. Mrs. March was both
surprised and touched, and smiled with her eyes full as she
examined her presents and read the little notes which accompanied
them. The slippers went on at once, a new handkerchief was slipped
into her pocket, well scented with Amy's cologne, the rose was
fastened in her bosom, and the nice gloves were pronounced a perfect
There was a good deal of laughing and kissing and explaining,
in the simple, loving fashion which makes these home festivals so
pleasant at the time, so sweet to remember long afterward, and
then all fell to work.
The morning charities and ceremonies took so much time that
the rest of the day was devoted to preparations for the evening
festivities. Being still too young to go often to the theater,
and not rich enough to afford any great outlay for private
performances, the girls put their wits to work, and necessity being
the mother of invention, made whatever they needed. Very clever
were some of their productions, pasteboard guitars, antique lamps
made of old-fashioned butter boats covered with silver paper,
gorgeous robes of old cotton, glittering with tin spangles from
a pickle factory, and armor covered with the same useful diamond
shaped bits left in sheets when the lids of preserve pots were
cut out. The big chamber was the scene of many innocent revels.
No gentleman were admitted, so Jo played male parts to her
heart's content and took immense satisfaction in a pair of russet
leather boots given her by a friend, who knew a lady who knew an
actor. These boots, an old foil, and a slashed doublet once used
by an artist for some picture, were Jo's chief treasures and
appeared on all occasions. The smallness of the company made it
necessary for the two principal actors to take several parts
apiece, and they certainly deserved some credit for the hard work
they did in learning three or four different parts, whisking in
and out of various costumes, and managing the stage besides. It
was excellent drill for their memories, a harmless amusement, and
employed many hours which otherwise would have been idle, lonely,
or spent in less profitable society.
On christmas night, a dozen girls piled onto the bed which
was the dress circle, and sat before the blue and yellow chintz
curtains in a most flattering state of expectancy. There was a
good deal of rustling and whispering behind the curtain, a trifle
of lamp smoke, and an occasional giggle from Amy, who was apt to
get hysterical in the excitement of the moment. Presently a bell
sounded, the curtains flew apart, and the _operatic tragedy_ began.
"A gloomy wood," according to the one playbill, was represented
by a few shrubs in pots, green baize on the floor, and a
cave in the 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 pot on it and an old witch bending over
it. The stage was dark and the glow of the furnace had a fine
effect, especially as real steam issued from the kettle when the
witch took off the cover. A moment was allowed for the first
thrill to subside, then Hugo, the villain, stalked in with a
clanking sword at his side, a slouching hat, black beard,
mysterious cloak, and the boots. After pacing to and fro in much
agitation, he struck his forehead, and burst out in a wild
strain, singing of his hatred for Roderigo, his love for Zara,
and his pleasing resolution to kill the one and win the other.
The gruff tones of Hugo's voice, with an occasional shout when
his feelings overcame him, were very impressive, and the audience
applauded the moment he paused for breath. Bowing with the air
of one accustomed to public praise, he stole to the cavern and
ordered Hagar to come forth with a commanding, "What ho, minion!
I need thee!"
Out came Meg, with gray horsehair hanging about her face,
a red and black robe, a staff, and cabalistic signs upon her
cloak. Hugo demanded a potion to make Zara adore him, and one
to destroy Roderigo. Hagar, in a fine dramatic melody, promised
both, and proceeded to call up the spirit who would bring the
Hither, hither, from thy home,
Airy sprite, I bid thee come!
Born of roses, fed on dew,
Charms and potions canst thou brew?
Bring me here, with elfin speed,
The fragrant philter which I need.
Make it sweet and swift and strong,
Spirit, answer now my song!
A soft strain of music sounded, and then at the back of the
cave appeared a little figure in cloudy white, with glittering
wings, golden hair, and a garland of roses on its head. Waving
a wand, it sang . . .
Hither I come,
From my airy home,
Afar in the silver moon.
Take the magic spell,
And use it well,
Or its power will vanish soon!
And dropping a small, gilded bottle at the witch's feet, the
spirit vanished. Another chant from Hagar produced another apparition,
not a lovely one, for with a bang an ugly black imp appeared and,
having croaked a reply, tossed a dark bottle at Hugo and disappeared
with a mocking laugh. Having warbled his thanks and put the potions
in his boots, Hugo departed, and Hagar informed the audience that
as he had killed a few of her friends in times past, she had cursed
him, and intends to thwart his plans, and be revenged on him. Then
the curtain fell, and the audience reposed and ate candy while
discussing the merits of the play.
A good deal of hammering went on before the curtain rose again,
but when it became evident what a masterpiece of stage carpentery
had 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 a
lamp burning in it, and behind the white curtain appeared Zara in
a lovely blue and silver dress, waiting for Roderigo. He came in
gorgeous array, with plumed cap, red cloak, chestnut lovelocks, a
guitar, and the boots, of course. Kneeling at the foot of the tower,
he sang a serenade in melting tones. Zara replied and, after a
musical dialogue, consented to fly. Then came the grand effect of
the play. Roderigo produced a rope ladder, with five steps to it,
threw up one end, and invited Zara to descend. Timidly she crept
from her lattice, put her hand on Roderigo's shoulder, and was
about to leap gracefully down when "Alas! Alas for Zara!" she
forgot her train. 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
from the wreck and a golden head emerged, exclaiming, "I told you
so! I told you so!" With wonderful presence of mind, Don Pedro,
the cruel sire, rushed in, dragged out his daughter, with a hasty
aside . . .
"Don't laugh! Act as if it was all right!" and, ordering
Roderigo 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. This
dauntless example fired Zara. She also defied her sire, and he
ordered them both to the deepest dungeons of the castle. A stout
little retainer came in with chains and led them away, looking very
much frightened and evidently forgetting the speech he ought to
Act third was the castle hall, and here Hagar appeared, having
come to free the lovers and finish Hugo. She hears him coming and
hides, sees him put the potions into two cups of wine and bid the
timid little servant, "Bear them to the captives in their cells,
and tell them I shall come anon." The servant takes Hugo aside to
tell him something, and Hagar changes the cups for two others which
are harmless. Ferdinando, the 'minion', carries them away, and
Hagar puts back the cup which holds the poison meant for Roderigo.
Hugo, getting thirsty after a long warble, drinks it, loses his wits,
and after a good deal of clutching and stamping, falls flat and dies,
while Hagar informs him what she has done in a song of exquisite
power and melody.
This was a truly thrilling scene, though some persons might
have thought that the sudden tumbling down of a quantity of long red
hair rather marred the effect of the villain's death. He was called
before the curtain, and with great propriety appeared, leading Hagar,
whose singing was considered more wonderful than all the rest of the
performance put together.
Act fourth displayed the despairing Roderigo on the point of
stabbing himself because he has been told that Zara has deserted him.
Just as the dagger is at his heart, a lovely song is sung under 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 unlocks the door,
and in a spasm of rapture he tears off his chains and rushes away
to find and rescue his lady love.
Act fifth opened with a stormy scene between Zara and Don Pedro.
He wishes her to go into a convent, but she won't hear of it, and
after a touching appeal, is about to faint when Roderigo dashes in
and demands her hand. Don Pedro refuses, because he is not rich.
They shout and gesticulate tremendously but cannot agree, and
Rodrigo is about to bear away the exhausted Zara, when the timid
servant enters with a letter and a bag from Hagar, who has mysteriously
disappeared. The latter informs the party that she bequeaths
untold wealth to the young pair and an awful doom to Don Pedro, if
he doesn't make them happy. The bag is opened, and several quarts of
tin money shower down upon the stage till it is quite glorified with
the glitter. This entirely softens the stern sire. He consents
without a murmur, all join in a joyful chorus, and the curtain falls
upon the lovers kneeling to receive Don Pedro's blessing 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 shut
up and extinguished the enthusiastic audience. Roderigo and Don
Pedro flew to the rescue, and all were taken out unhurt, though many
were speechless with laughter. The excitement had hardly subsided
when Hannah appeared, with "Mrs. March's compliments, and would the
ladies walk down to supper."
This was a surprise even to the actors, and when they saw the
table, they looked at one another in rapturous amazement. It was
like Marmee to get up a little treat for them, but anything so fine
as this was unheard of since the departed days of plenty. There was
ice cream, actually two dishes of it, pink and white, and cake and
fruit and distracting french bonbons and, in the middle of the
table, four great bouquets of hot house flowers.
It quite took their breath away, and they stared first at the
table and then at their mother, who looked as if she enjoyed it
"Is it fairies?" asked Amy.
"Santa Claus," said Beth.
"Mother did it." And Meg smiled her sweetest, in spite of her
gray beard and white eyebrows.
"Aunt March had a good fit and sent the supper," cried Jo, with
a sudden inspiration.
"All wrong. Old Mr. Laurence sent it," replied Mrs. March.
"The Laurence boy's grandfather! What in the world put such a
thing into his head? We don't know him!" exclaimed Meg.
"Hannah told one of his servants about your breakfast party.
He is an odd old gentleman, but that pleased him. He knew my father
years ago, and he sent me a polite note this afternoon, saying he
hoped I would allow him to express his friendly feeling toward my
children by sending them a few trifles in honor of the day. I
could not refuse, and so you have a little feast at night to make
up for the bread-and-milk breakfast."
"That boy put it into his head, I know he did! He's a capital
fellow, and I wish we could get acquainted. He looks as if he'd
like to know us but he's bashful, and Meg is so prim she won't let
me 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 of
"You mean the people who live in the big house next door, don't
you?" asked one of the girls. "My mother knows old Mr. Laurence,
but says he's very proud and doesn't like to mix with his neighbors.
He keeps his grandson shut up, when he isn't riding or walking with
his tutor, and makes him study very hard. We invited him 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
talked over the fence, and were getting on capitally, all about
cricket, and so on, when he saw Meg coming, and walked off. I
mean to know him some day, for he needs fun, I'm sure he does,"
said Jo decidedly.
"I like his manners, and he looks like a little gentleman, so
I've no objection to your knowing him, if a proper opportunity comes.
He brought the flowers himself, and I should have asked him in, if
I had been sure what was going on upstairs. He looked so wistful
as he went away, hearing the frolic and evidently having none of
"It's a mercy you didn't, Mother!" laughed Jo, looking at
her boots. "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!"
And Meg 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
could send my bunch to Father. I'm afraid he isn't having such
a merry Christmas as we are."
THE LAURENCE BOY
"Jo! Jo! Where are you?" cried Meg at the foot of the garret stairs.
"Here!" answered a husky voice from above, and, running up,
Meg found her sister eating apples and crying over the Heir of
Redclyffe, wrapped up in a comforter on an old three-legged sofa
by the sunny window. This was Jo's favorite refuge, and here she
loved to retire with half a dozen russets and a nice book, to enjoy
the quiet and the society of a pet rat who lived near by and didn't
mind her a particle. As Meg appeared, Scrabble whisked into his
hole. Jo shook the tears off her cheeks and waited to hear the news.
"Such fun! Only see! A regular note of invitation from Mrs.
Gardiner for tomorrow night!" cried Meg, waving the precious paper
and then proceeding to read it with girlish delight.
"'Mrs. Gardiner would be happy to see Miss March and Miss Josephine
at a little dance on New Year's Eve.' Marmee is willing we should go,
now what shall we wear?"
"What's the use of asking that, when you know we shall wear
our poplins, because we haven't got anything else?" answered Jo
with her mouth full.
"If I only had a silk!" sighed Meg. "Mother says I may when
I'm eighteen perhaps, but two years is an everlasting time to wait."
"I'm sure our pops look like silk, and they are nice enough for
us. Yours is as good as new, but I forgot the burn and the tear in
mine. Whatever shall I do? The burn shows badly, and I can't take
"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, and
Marmee will lend me her little pearl pin, and my new slippers are
lovely, and my gloves will do, though they aren't as nice as I'd like."
"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 herself
much about dress.
"You must have gloves, or I won't go," cried Meg decidedly.
"Gloves are more important than anything else. You can't dance
without 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 cut capers."
"You can't ask Mother for new ones, they are so expensive, and
you are so careless. She said when you spoiled the others that she
shouldn't get you any more this winter. Can't you make them do?"
"I can hold them crumpled up in my hand, so no one will know
how stained they are. That's all I can do. No! I'll tell you how
we can manage, each wear one good one and carry a bad one. Don't
"Your hands are bigger than mine, and you will stretch my glove
dreadfully," began Meg, whose gloves were a tender point with her.
"Then I'll go without. I don't care what people say!" cried Jo,
taking up her book.
"You may have it, you may! Only don't stain it, and do behave
nicely. 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 and not get
into any scrapes, if I can help it. Now go and answer your note,
and let me 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 Jo
finished her story, her four apples, and had a game of romps with
On New Year's Eve the parlor was deserted, for the two younger
girls played dressing maids and the two elder were absorbed in the
all-important business of 'getting ready for the party'. Simple
as the toilets were, there was a great deal of running up and down,
laughing and talking, and at one time a strong smell of burned hair
pervaded the house. Meg wanted a few curls about her face, and Jo
undertook to pinch the papered locks with a pair of hot tongs.
"Ought they to smoke like that?" asked Beth from her perch
on the 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 take off the papers and you'll see a cloud
of little 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 hairdresser
laid a row of little scorched bundles on the bureau before her victim.
"Oh, oh, oh! What have you done? I'm spoiled! I can't go! My
hair, oh, my hair!" wailed Meg, looking with despair at the uneven
frizzle on her forehead.
"Just my luck! You shouldn't have asked me to do it. I always
spoil everything. I'm so sorry, but the tongs were too hot, and so
I've made a mess," groaned poor Jo, regarding the little black
pancakes with tears of regret.
"It isn't spoiled. Just frizzle it, and tie your ribbon so
the ends come on your forehead a bit, and it will look like the
last fashion. 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 hair
alone," cried Meg petulantly.
"So do I, it was so smooth and pretty. But it will soon grow
out again," said Beth, coming to kiss and comfort the shorn sheep.
After various lesser mishaps, Meg was finished at last, and
by the united exertions of the entire family Jo's hair was got up
and her dress on. They looked very well in their simple suits,
Meg's in silvery drab, with a blue velvet snood, lace frills, and
the pearl pin. Jo in maroon, with a stiff, gentlemanly linen
collar, and a white chrysanthemum or two for her only ornament.
Each put on one nice light glove, and carried one soiled one, and
all pronounced the effect "quite easy and fine". Meg's high-heeled
slippers were very tight and hurt her, though she would not own it,
and Jo's nineteen hairpins all seemed stuck straight into her head,
which was not exactly comfortable, but, dear me, let us be elegant
"Have a good time, dearies!" said Mrs. March, as the sisters
went daintily down the walk. "Don't eat much supper, and come
away at eleven when I send Hannah for you." As the gate clashed
behind them, a voice cried from a window . . .
"Girls, girls! Have you you both got nice pocket handkerchiefs?"
"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 ask
that if we were all running away from an earthquake."
"It is one of her aristocratic tastes, and quite proper, for a
real lady is always known by neat boots, gloves, and handkerchief,"
replied Meg, who had a good many little 'aristocratic tastes' of
"Now don't forget to keep the bad breadth out of sight, Jo.
Is my sash right? And does my hair look very bad?" said Meg, as
she turned from the glass in Mrs. Gardiner's dressing room after
a prolonged prink.
"I know I shall forget. If you see me doing anything wrong,
just remind me by a wink, will you?" returned Jo, giving her
collar a twitch and her head a hasty brush.
"No, winking isn't ladylike. I'll lift my eyebrows if any
thing is wrong, and nod if you are all right. Now hold your
shoulder straight, and take short steps, and don't shake hands if
you are introduced to anyone. It isn't the thing."
"How do you learn all the proper ways? I never can. Isn't
that music gay?"
Down they went, feeling a trifle timid, for they seldom went
to parties, and informal as this little gathering was, it was an
event to them. Mrs. Gardiner, a stately old lady, greeted them
kindly and handed them over to the eldest of her six daughters.
Meg knew Sallie and was at her ease very soon, but Jo, who didn't
care much for girls or girlish gossip, stood about, with her back
carefully against the wall, and felt as much out of place as a
colt in a flower garden. Half a dozen jovial lads were talking
about skates in 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 her wish to Meg, but the eyebrows went up so alarmingly
that she dared not stir. No one came to talk to her, and one by
one the group dwindled away till she was left alone. She could
not roam about and amuse herself, for the burned breadth would
show, so she stared at people rather forlornly till the dancing
began. Meg was asked at once, and the tight slippers tripped
about so briskly that none would have guessed the pain their
wearer suffered smilingly. Jo saw a big red headed youth
approaching her corner, and fearing he meant to engage her, she
slipped into a curtained recess, intending to peep and enjoy
herself in peace. Unfortunately, another bashful person had
chosen the same refuge, for, as the curtain fell behind her,
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
a little 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
people and 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
of seeing you before. You live near us, don't you?"
"Next door." And he looked up and laughed outright, for Jo's
prim manner was rather funny when he remembered how they had chatted
about cricket when he brought the cat home.
That put Jo at her ease and she laughed too, as she said, in
her heartiest way, "We did have such a good time over your nice
"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 look
sober while his black eyes shone with fun.
"Nicely, thank you, Mr. Laurence. But I am not Miss March, I'm
only Jo," returned the young lady.
"I'm not Mr. Laurence, I'm only Laurie."
"Laurie Laurence, what an odd name."
"My first name is Theodore, but I don't like it, for the
fellows called me Dora, so I made them say Laurie instead."
"I hate my name, too, so sentimental! I wish every one would
say Jo instead of Josephine. How did you make the boys stop calling
"I thrashed 'em."
"I can't thrash Aunt March, so I suppose I shall have to bear
it." And Jo resigned herself with a sigh.
"Don't you like to dance, Miss Jo?" asked Laurie, looking
as if he thought the name suited her.
"I like it well enough if there is plenty of room, and everyone
is lively. In a place like this I'm sure to upset something,
tread on people's toes, or do something dreadful, so I keep out
of mischief and let Meg sail about. Don't you dance?"
"Sometimes. You see I've been abroad a good many years, and
haven't been into company enough yet to know how you do things here."
"Abroad!" cried Jo. "Oh, tell me about it! I love dearly to
hear people describe their travels."
Laurie didn't seem to know where to begin, but Jo's eager
questions soon set him going, and he told her how he had been at
school in Vevay, where the boys never wore hats and had a fleet of
boats on the lake, and for holiday fun went on walking trips about
Switzerland with their teachers.
"Don't I wish I'd been there!" cried Jo. "Did you go to Paris?"
"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 the
young lady in the pretty slippers', didn't you?"
"It's my sister Margaret, and you knew it was! Do you think
she is pretty?"
"Yes, she makes me think of the German girls, she looks so
fresh and quiet, and dances like a lady."
Jo quite glowed with pleasure at this boyish praise of her sister,
and stored it up to repeat to Meg. Both peeped and critisized and
chatted till they felt like old acquaintances. Laurie's bashfulness
soon wore off, for Jo's gentlemanly demeanor amused and set him at
his ease, and Jo was her merry self again, because her dress was
forgotten and nobody lifted their eyebrows at her. She liked the
'Laurence boy' better than ever and took several good looks at him,
so that she might describe him to the girls, for they had no
brothers, very few male cousins, and boys were almost unknown
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
herself in time and, with unusual tact, tried to find out in a
"I suppose you are going to college soon? I see you pegging
away at your books, no, I mean studying hard." And Jo blushed
at the dreadful 'pegging' which had escaped her.
Laurie smiled but didn't seem shocked, and answered with a
shrug. "Not for a year or two. I won't go before seventeen,
"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
you liked it."
"I hate it! Nothing but grinding or skylarking. And I don't
like the 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
black brows looked rather threatening as he knit them, so she
changed the subject by saying, as her foot kept time, "That's a
splendid polka! Why don't you go and try it?"
"If you will come too," he answered, with a gallant little bow.
"I can't, for I told Meg I wouldn't, because . . ." There Jo
stopped, 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
I burn my frocks, and I scorched this one, and though it's nicely
mended, it shows, and Meg told me to keep still so no one would
see it. You may laugh, if you want to. It is funny, I know."
But Laurie didn't laugh. He only looked down a minute, and
the expression of his face puzzled Jo when he said very gently,
"Never mind that. I'll tell you how we can manage. There's a long
hall out there, and we can dance grandly, and no one will see us.
Jo thanked him and gladly went, wishing she had two neat gloves
when she saw the nice, pearl-colored ones her partner wore. The
hall was empty, and they had a grand polka, for Laurie danced well,
and taught her the German step, which delighted Jo, being full of
swing and spring. When the music stopped, they sat down on the
stairs to get their breath, and Laurie was in the midst of an account
of a students' festival at Heidelberg when Meg appeared in search of
her sister. She beckoned, and Jo reluctantly followed her into a
side room, where she found her on a sofa, holding her foot, and
"I've sprained my ankle. That stupid high heel turned and
gave me a sad wrench. It aches so, I can hardly stand, and I don't
know how I'm ever going to get home," she said, rocking to and fro
"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
stay here all night," answered Jo, softly rubbing the poor ankle as
"I can't have a carriage without its costing ever so much. I
dare 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, and dark as Egypt. I can't stop
here, for the house is full. Sallie has some girls staying with her.
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
the idea occurred to her.
"Mercy, no! Don't ask or tell anyone. Get me my rubbers, and
put these slippers with our things. I can't dance anymore, but as
soon as supper is over, watch for Hannah and tell me the minute she
"They are going out to supper now. I'll stay with you. I'd
"No, dear, run along, and bring me some coffee. I'm so tired
I can't stir."
So Meg reclined, with rubbers well hidden, and Jo went blundering
away to the dining room, which she found after going into a
china closet, and opening the door of a room where old Mr. Gardiner
was taking a little private refreshment. Making a dart at the
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, finishing
Meg'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, and
someone shook me, and here I am in a nice state," answered Jo,
glancing dismally from the stained skirt to the coffee-colored glove.
"Too bad! I was looking for someone to give this to. May I
take it to your sister?"
"Oh, thank you! I'll show you where she is. I don't offer to
take it 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
drew up a little table, brought a second installment of coffee and
ice for Jo, and was so obliging that even particular Meg pronounced
him a 'nice boy'. They had a merry time over the bonbons and mottoes,
and were in the midst of a quiet game of _Buzz_, with two or three
other young people who had strayed in, when Hannah appeared. Meg
forgot her foot and rose so quickly that she was forced to catch
hold of Jo, with an exclamation of pain.
"Hush! Don't say anything," she whispered, adding aloud, "It's
nothing. I turned my foot a little, that's all," and limped upstairs
to put her things on.
Hannah scolded, Meg cried, and Jo was at her wits' end, till
she decided to take things into her own hands. Slipping out, she ran
down and, finding a servant, asked if he could get her a carriage.
It happened to be a hired waiter who knew nothing about the
neighborhood and Jo was looking round for help when Laurie, who had
heard what she said, came up and offered his grandfather's carriage,
which had just come for him, he said.
"It's so early! You can't mean to go yet?" began Jo, looking
relieved 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 gratefully
accepted and rushed up to bring down the rest of the party. Hannah
hated rain as much as a cat does so she made no trouble, and they
rolled away in the luxurious close carriage, feeling very festive
and 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
a fancy to me, and asked me to come and spend a week with her when
Sallie does. She is going in the spring when the opera comes, and
it will be perfectly splendid, if Mother only lets me go," answered
Meg, cheering up at the thought.
"I saw you dancing with the red headed man I ran away from. Was
"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, and by the time she had finished they
were at home. With many thanks, they said good night and crept in,
hoping to disturb no one, but the instant their door creaked, two
little nightcaps bobbed up, and two sleepy but eager voices cried
out . . .
"Tell about the party! Tell about the party!"
With what Meg called 'a great want of manners' Jo had saved some
bonbons for the little girls, and they soon subsided, after hearing
the most thrilling events of the evening.
"I declare, it really seems like being a fine young lady, to
come home from the party in a carriage and sit in my dressing gown
with a maid to wait on me," said Meg, as Jo bound up her foot with
arnica and brushed her hair.
"I don't believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit more
than we do, in spite of our burned hair, old gowns, one glove apiece
and tight slippers that sprain our ankles when we are silly enough
to wear them." And I think Jo was quite right.
"Oh, dear, how hard it does seem to take up our packs
and go on," sighed Meg the morning after the party, for now
the holidays were over, the week of merrymaking did not fit
her for going on easily with the task she never liked.
"I wish it was Christmas or New Year's all the time.
Wouldn't it be fun?" answered Jo, yawning dismally.
"We shouldn't enjoy ourselves half so much as we do now.
But it does seem so nice to have little suppers and bouquets,
and go to parties, and drive home, and read and rest, and not
work. It's like other people, you know, and I always envy
girls who do such things, I'm so fond of luxury," said Meg,
trying to decide which of two shabby gowns was the least
"Well, we can't have it, so don't let us grumble but
shoulder our bundles and trudge along as cheerfully as
Marmee does. I'm sure Aunt March is a regular Old Man of
the Sea to me, but I suppose when I've learned to carry her
without complaining, she will tumble off, or get so light
that I shan't mind her."
This idea tickled Jo's fancy and put her in good spirits,
but Meg didn't brighten, for her burden, consisting
of four spoiled children, seemed heavier than ever.
She had not heart enough even to make herself pretty
as usual by putting on a blue neck ribbon and dressing
her hair in the most becoming way.
"Where's the use of looking nice, when no one sees me
but those cross midgets, and no one cares whether I'm pretty
or not?" she muttered, shutting her drawer with a jerk. "I
shall have to toil and moil all my days, with only little
bits of fun now and then, and get old and ugly and sour,
because I'm poor and can't enjoy my life as other girls do.
It's a shame!"
So Meg went down, wearing an injured look, and wasn't at
all agreeable at breakfast time. Everyone seemed rather out
of sorts and inclined to croak.
Beth had a headache and lay on the sofa, trying to comfort
herself with the cat and three kittens. Amy was fretting
because her lessons were not learned, and she couldn't
find her rubbers. Jo would whistle and make a great racket
Mrs. March was very busy trying to finish a letter,
which must go at once, and Hannah had the grumps, for being
up late didn't suit her.
"There never was such a cross family!" cried Jo, losing
her temper when she had upset an inkstand, broken both boot
lacings, and sat down upon her hat.
"You're the crossest person in it!" returned Amy, washing
out the sum that was all wrong with the tears that had
fallen on her slate.
"Beth, if you don't keep these horrid cats down cellar
I'll have them drowned," exclaimed Meg angrily as she tried
to get rid of the kitten which had scrambled up her back and
stuck like a burr just out of reach.
Jo laughed, Meg scolded, Beth implored, and Amy wailed
because she couldn't remember how much nine times twelve was.
"Girls, girls, do be quiet one minute! I must get this
off by the early mail, and you drive me distracted with your
worry," cried Mrs. March, crossing out the third spoiled sentence
in her letter.
There was a momentary lull, broken by Hannah, who stalked in,
laid two hot turnovers on the table, and stalked out again.
These turnovers were an institution, and the girls called
them 'muffs', for they had no others and found the hot
pies very comforting to their hands on cold mornings.
Hannah never forgot to make them, no matter how busy or
grumpy she might be, for the walk was long and bleak.
The poor things got no other lunch and were seldom home
"Cuddle your cats and get over your headache, Bethy.
Goodbye, Marmee. We are a set of rascals this morning, but
we'll come home regular angels. Now then, Meg!" And Jo
tramped away, feeling that the pilgrims were not setting out
as they ought to do.
They always looked back before turning the corner, for
their mother was always at the window to nod and smile, and
wave her hand to them. Somehow it seemed as if they couldn't
have got through the day without that, for whatever their
mood might be, the last glimpse of that motherly face was
sure to affect them like sunshine.
"If Marmee shook her fist instead of kissing her hand
to us, it would serve us right, for more ungrateful wretches
than we are were never seen," cried Jo, taking a remorseful
satisfaction in the snowy walk and bitter wind.
"Don't use such dreadful expressions," replied Meg from
the depths of the veil in which she had shrouded herself
like a nun sick of the world.
"I like good strong words that mean something," replied
Jo, catching her hat as it took a leap off her head
preparatory to flying away altogether.
"Call yourself any names you like, but I am neither a
rascal nor a wretch and I don't choose to be called so."
"You're a blighted being, and decidedly cross today because
you can't sit in the lap of luxury all the time. Poor dear,
just wait till I make my fortune, and you shall revel
in carriages and ice cream and high-heeled slippers,
and posies, and red-headed boys to dance with."
"How ridiculous you are, Jo!" But Meg laughed at the
nonsense and felt better in spite of herself.
"Lucky for you I am, for if I put on crushed airs and
tried to be dismal, as you do, we should be in a nice state.
Thank goodness, I can always find something funny to keep me
up. Don't croak any more, but come home jolly, there's a dear."
Jo gave her sister an encouraging pat on the shoulder
as they parted for the day, each going a different way, each
hugging her little warm turnover, and each trying to be
cheerful in spite of wintry weather, hard work, and the
unsatisfied desires of pleasure-loving youth.
When Mr. March lost his property in trying to help an
unfortunate friend, the two oldest girls begged to be allowed
to do something toward their own support, at least. Believing
that they could not begin too early to cultivate energy,
industry, and independence, their parents consented, and
both fell to work with the hearty good will which in spite
of all obstacles is sure to succeed at last.
Margaret found a place as nursery governess and felt
rich with her small salary. As she said, she was 'fond of
luxury', and her chief trouble was poverty. She found it
harder to bear than the others because she could remember a
time when home was beautiful, life full of ease and pleasure,
and want of any kind unknown. She tried not to be envious
or discontented, but it was very natural that the young girl
should long for pretty things, gay friends, accomplishments,
and a happy life. At the Kings' she daily saw all she wanted,
for the children's older sisters were just out, and Meg
caught frequent glimpses of dainty ball dresses and bouquets,
heard lively gossip about theaters, concerts, sleighing parties,
and merrymakings of all kinds, and saw money lavished
on trifles which would have been so precious to her. Poor
Meg seldom complained, but a sense of injustice made her feel
bitter toward everyone sometimes, for she had not yet learned
to know how rich she was in the blessings which alone can
make life happy.
Jo happened to suit Aunt March, who was lame and needed
an active person to wait upon her. The childless old lady
had offered to adopt one of the girls when the troubles came,
and was much offended because her offer was declined. Other
friends told the Marches that they had lost all chance of
being remembered in the rich old lady's will, but the
unworldly Marches only said . . .
"We can't give up our girls for a dozen fortunes. Rich
or poor, we will keep together and be happy in one another."
The old lady wouldn't speak to them for a time, but happening
to meet Jo at a friend's, something in her comical face
and blunt manners struck the old lady's fancy, and she
proposed to take her for a companion. This did not suit Jo
at all, but she accepted the place since nothing better
appeared and, to every one's surprise, got on remarkably well
with her irascible relative. There was an occasional tempest,
and once Jo marched home, declaring she couldn't bear
it longer, but Aunt March always cleared up quickly, and
sent for her to come back again with such urgency that she
could not refuse, for in her heart she rather liked the
peppery old lady.
I suspect that the real attraction was a large library
of fine books, which was left to dust and spiders since
Uncle March died. Jo remembered the kind old gentleman, who
used to let her build railroads and bridges with his big
dictionaries, tell her stories about queer pictures in his
Latin books, and buy her cards of gingerbread whenever he
met her in the street. The dim, dusty room, with the busts
staring down from the tall bookcases, the cozy chairs, the
globes, and best of all, the wilderness of books in which
she could wander where she liked, made the library a region
of bliss to her.
The moment Aunt March took her nap, or was busy with
company, Jo hurried to this quiet place, and curling herself
up in the easy chair, devoured poetry, romance, history,
travels, and pictures like a regular bookworm. But, like
all happiness, it did not last long, for as sure as she had
just reached the heart of the story, the sweetest verse of
a song, or the most perilous adventure of her traveler, a
shrill voice called, "Josy-phine! Josy-phine!" and she had
to leave her paradise to wind yarn, wash the poodle, or
read Belsham's Essays by the hour together.
Jo's ambition was to do something very splendid. What
it was, she had no idea as yet, but left it for time to tell
her, and meanwhile, found her greatest affliction in the
fact that she couldn't read, run, and ride as much as she
liked. A quick temper, sharp tongue, and restless spirit
were always getting her into scrapes, and her life was a
series of ups and downs, which were both comic and pathetic.
But the training she received at Aunt March's was just what
she needed, and the thought that she was doing something to
support herself made her happy in spite of the perpetual
Beth was too bashful to go to school. It had been tried,
but she suffered so much that it was given up, and she did
her lessons at home with her father. Even when he went away,
and her mother was called to devote her skill and energy to
Soldiers' Aid Societies, Beth went faithfully on by herself
and did the best she could. She was a housewifely little
creature, and helped Hannah keep home neat and comfortable
for the workers, never thinking of any reward but to be
loved. Long, quiet days she spent, not lonely nor idle, for
her little world was peopled with imaginary friends, and she
was by nature a busy bee. There were six dolls to be taken
up and dressed every morning, for Beth was a child still
and loved her pets as well as ever. Not one whole or
handsome one among them, all were outcasts till Beth took
them in, for when her sisters outgrew these idols, they
passed to her because Amy would have nothing old or ugly.
Beth cherished them all the more tenderly for that very
reason, and set up a hospital for infirm dolls. No pins
were ever stuck into their cotton vitals, no harsh words or
blows were ever given them, no neglect ever saddened the
heart of the most repulsive, but all were fed and clothed,
nursed and caressed with an affection which never failed.
One forlorn fragment of dollanity had belonged to Jo and,
having led a tempestuous life, was left a wreck in the rag
bag, from which dreary poorhouse it was rescued by Beth
and taken to her refuge. Having no top to its head, she
tied on a neat little cap, and as both arms and legs were
gone, she hid these deficiencies by folding it in a blanket
and devoting her best bed to this chronic invalid. If anyone
had known the care lavished on that dolly, I think it
would have touched their hearts, even while they laughed.
She brought it bits of bouquets, she read to it, took it
out to breathe fresh air, hidden under her coat, she sang
it lullabies and never went to bed without kissing its dirty
face and whispering tenderly, "I hope you'll have a good
night, my poor dear."
Beth had her troubles as well as the others, and not
being an angel but a very human little girl, she often 'wept
a little weep' as Jo said, because she couldn't take music
lessons and have a fine piano. She loved music so dearly,
tried so hard to learn, and practiced away so patiently at
the jingling old instrument, that it did seem as if someone
(not to hint Aunt March) ought to help her. Nobody did,
however, and nobody saw Beth wipe the tears off the yellow
keys, that wouldn't keep in tune, when she was all alone.
She sang like a little lark about her work, never was too
tired for Marmee and the girls, and day after day said
hopefully to herself, "I know I'll get my music some time,
if I'm good."
There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting
in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully
that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on
the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence
vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.
If anybody had asked Amy what the greatest trial of her
life was, she would have answered at once, "My nose." When
she was a baby, Jo had accidently dropped her into the coal hod,
and Amy insisted that the fall had ruined her nose forever. It
was not big nor red, like poor 'Petrea's', it was only rather
flat, and all the pinching in the world could not give it an
aristocratic point. No one minded it but herself, and it was
doing its best to grow, but Amy felt deeply the want of a
Grecian nose, and drew whole sheets of handsome ones to console
"Little Raphael," as her sisters called her, had a decided
talent for drawing, and was never so happy as when copying
flowers, designing fairies, or illustrating stories with queer
specimens of art. Her teachers complained that instead of
doing her sums she covered her slate with animals, the blank
pages of her atlas were used to copy maps on, and caricatures
of the most ludicrous description came fluttering out of all
her books at unlucky moments. She got through her lessons as
well as she could, and managed to escape reprimands by being
a model of deportment. She was a great favorite with her mates,
being good-tempered and possessing the happy art of pleasing
without effort. Her little airs and graces were much admired,
so were her accomplishments, for besides her drawing, she could
play twelve tunes, crochet, and read French without mispronouncing
more than two-thirds of the words. She had a plaintive
way of saying, "When Papa was rich we did so-and-so," which
was very touching, and her long words were considered 'perfectly
elegant' by the girls.
Amy was in a fair way to be spoiled, for everyone petted
her, and her small vanities and selfishnesses were growing nicely.
One thing, however, rather quenched the vanities. She had to wear
her cousin's clothes. Now Florence's mama hadn't a particle of
taste, and Amy suffered deeply at having to wear a red instead of
a blue bonnet, unbecoming gowns, and fussy aprons that did not
fit. Everything was good, well made, and little worn, but Amy's
artistic eyes were much afflicted, especially this winter, when
her school dress was a dull purple with yellow dots and no
"My only comfort," she said to Meg, with tears in her eyes,
"is that Mother doesn't take tucks in my dresses whenever I'm
naughty, as Maria Parks's mother does. My dear, it's really
dreadful, for sometimes she is so bad her frock is up to her
knees, and she can't come to school. When I think of this
deggerredation, I fell that I can bear even my flat nose and
purple gown with yellow skyrockets on it."
Meg was Amy's confidant and monitor, and by some strange
attraction of opposites Jo was gentle Beth's. To Jo alone did
the shy child tell her thoughts, and over her big harum-scarum
sister Beth unconsciously exercised more influence than anyone
in the family. The two older girls were a great deal to one
another, but each took one of the younger sisters into her
keeping and watched over her in her own way, 'playing mother'
they called it, and put their sisters in the places of
discarded dolls with the maternal instinct of little women.
"Has anybody got anything to tell? It's been such a dismal
day I'm really dying for some amusement," said Meg, as they sat
sewing together that evening.
"I had a queer time with Aunt today, and, as I got the best
of it, I'll tell you about it," began Jo, who dearly loved to tell
stories. "I was reading that everlasting Belsham, and droning
away as I always do, for Aunt soon drops off, and then I take out
some nice book, and read like fury till she wakes up. I actually
made myself sleepy, and before she began to nod, I gave such a
gape that she asked me what I meant by opening my mouth wide
enough to take the whole book in at once."
"I wish I could, and be done with it," said I, trying not to
"Then she gave me a long lecture on my sins, and told me to
sit and think them over while she just 'lost' herself for a moment.
She never finds herself very soon, so the minute her cap began to
bob like a top-heavy dahlia, I whipped the _Vicar of Wakefield_ out
of my pocket, and read away, with one eye on him and one on Aunt.
I'd just got to where they all tumbled into the water when I
forgot and laughed out loud. Aunt woke up and, being more
good-natured after her nap, told me to read a bit and show what
frivolous work I preferred to the worthy and instructive Belsham.
I did my very best, and she liked it, though she only said . . .
"'I don't understand what it's all about. Go back and begin
"Back I went, and made the Primroses as interesting as ever I
could. Once I was wicked enough to stop in a thrilling place, and
say meekly, 'I'm afraid it tires you, ma'am. Shan't I stop now?'"
"She caught up her knitting, which had dropped out of her
hands, gave me a sharp look through her specs, and said, in her
short way, 'Finish the chapter, and don't be impertinent, miss'."
"Did she own she liked it?" asked Meg.
"Oh, bless you, no! But she let old Belsham rest, and when I
ran back after my gloves this afternoon, there she was, so hard at
the Vicar that she didn't hear me laugh as I danced a jig in the hall
because of the good time coming. What a pleasant life she might have
if only she chose! I don't envy her much, in spite of her money, for
after all rich people have about as many worries as poor ones, I
think," added Jo.
"That reminds me," said Meg, "that I've got something to tell.
It isn't funny, like Jo's story, but I thought about it a good deal
as I came home. At the Kings' today I found everybody in a flurry,
and one of the children said that her oldest brother had done
something dreadful, and Papa had sent him away. I heard Mrs. King
crying and Mr. King talking very loud, and Grace and Ellen turned
away their faces when they passed me, so I shouldn't see how red and
swollen their eyes were. I didn't ask any questions, of course, but
I felt so sorry for them and was rather glad I hadn't any wild
brothers to do wicked things and disgrace the family."
"I think being disgraced in school is a great deal tryinger
than anything bad boys can do," said Amy, shaking her head, as if
her experience of life had been a deep one. "Susie Perkins came
to school today with a lovely red carnelian ring. I wanted it
dreadfully, and wished I was her with all my might. Well, she
drew a picture of Mr. Davis, with a monstrous nose and a hump,
and the words, 'Young ladies, my eye is upon you!' coming out of
his mouth in a balloon thing. We were laughing over it when all
of a sudden his eye was on us, and he ordered Susie to bring up
her slate. She was parrylized with fright, but she went, and oh,
what do you think he did? He took her by the ear--the ear! Just
fancy how horrid!--and led her to the recitation platform, and
made her stand there half an hour, holding the slate so everyone
"Didn't the girls laugh at the picture?" asked Jo, who
relished the scrape.
"Laugh? Not one! They sat still as mice, and Susie cried
quarts, I know she did. I didn't envy her then, for I felt that
millions of carnelian rings wouldn't have made me happy after that.
I never, never should have got over such a agonizing mortification."
And Amy went on with her work, in the proud consciousness of virtue
and the successful utterance of two long words in a breath.
"I saw something I liked this morning, and I meant to tell it
at dinner, but I forgot," said Beth, putting Jo's topsy-turvy basket
in order as she talked. "When I went to get some oysters for Hannah,
Mr. Laurence was in the fish shop, but he didn't see me, for I kept
behind the fish barrel, and he was busy with Mr. Cutter the fishman.
A poor woman came in with a pail and a mop, and asked Mr. Cutter if he
would let her do some scrubbing for a bit of fish, because she
hadn't any dinner for her children, and had been disappointed of a
day's work. Mr. Cutter was in a hurry and said 'No', rather
crossly, so she was going away, looking hungry and sorry, when Mr.
Laurence hooked up a big fish with the crooked end of his cane and
held it out to her. She was so glad and surprised she took it
right into her arms, and thanked him over and over. He told her to
'go along and cook it', and she hurried off, so happy! Wasn't it
good of him? Oh, she did look so funny, hugging the big, slippery
fish, and hoping Mr. Laurence's bed in heaven would be 'aisy'."
When they had laughed at Beth's story, they asked their mother
for one, and after a moments thought, she said soberly, "As I sat
cutting out blue flannel jackets today at the rooms, I felt very
anxious about Father, and thought how lonely and helpless we should
be, if anything happened to him. It was not a wise thing to do,
but I kept on worrying till an old man came in with an order for some
clothes. He sat down near me, and I began to talk to him, for he
looked poor and tired and anxious.
"'Have you sons in the army?' I asked, for the note he brought
was not to me."
"Yes, ma'am. I had four, but two were killed, one is a prisoner,
and I'm going to the other, who is very sick in a Washington hospital.'
he answered quietly."
"'You have done a great deal for your country, sir,' I said,
feeling respect now, instead of pity."
"'Not a mite more than I ought, ma'am. I'd go myself, if I was
any use. As I ain't, I give my boys, and give 'em free.'"
"He spoke so cheerfully, looked so sincere, and seemed so glad
to give his all, that I was ashamed of myself. I'd given one man and
thought it too much, while he gave four without grudging them. I had
all my girls to comfort me at home, and his last son was waiting,
miles away, to say good-by to him, perhaps! I felt so rich, so happy
thinking of my blessings, that I made him a nice bundle, gave him
some money, and thanked him heartily for the lesson he had taught me."
"Tell another story, Mother, one with a moral to it, like this.
I like to think about them afterward, if they are real and not too
preachy," said Jo, after a minute's silence.
Mrs. March smiled and began at once, for she had told stories to
this little audience for many years, and knew how to please them.
"Once upon a time, there were four girls, who had enough to eat
and drink and wear, a good many comforts and pleasures, kind friends
and parents who loved them dearly, and yet they were not contented."
(Here the listeners stole sly looks at one another, and began to
sew diligently.) "These girls were anxious to be good and made many
excellent resolutions, but they did not keep them very well, and were
constantly saying, 'If only we had this,' or 'If we could only do
that,' quite forgetting how much they already had, and how many
things they actually could do. So they asked an old woman what spell
they could use to make them happy, and she said, 'When you feel
discontented, think over your blessings, and be grateful.'" (Here Jo
looked up quickly, as if about to speak, but changed her mind, seeing
that the story was not done yet.)
"Being sensible girls, they decided to try her advice, and soon
were surprised to see how well off they were. One discovered that
money couldn't keep shame and sorrow out of rich people's houses,
another that, though she was poor, she was a great deal happier, with
her youth, health, and good spirits, than a certain fretful, feeble
old lady who couldn't enjoy her comforts, a third that, disagreeable
as it was to help get dinner, it was harder still to go begging for
it and the fourth, that even carnelian rings were not so valuable as
good behavior. So they agreed to stop complaining, to enjoy the
blessings already possessed, and try to deserve them, lest they
should be taken away entirely, instead of increased, and I believe
they were never disappointed or sorry that they took the old woman's
"Now, Marmee, that is very cunning of you to turn our own
stories against us, and give us a sermon instead of a romance!"
"I like that kind of sermon. It's the sort Father used to tell
us," said Beth thoughtfully, putting the needles straight on Jo's
"I don't complain near as much as the others do, and I shall be
more careful than ever now, for I've had warning from Susie's
downfall," said Amy morally.
"We needed that lesson, and we won't forget it. If we do so,
you just say to us, as old Chloe did in _Uncle Tom_, 'Tink ob yer
marcies, chillen!' 'Tink ob yer marcies!'" added Jo, who could not,
for the life of her, help getting a morsel of fun out of the little
sermon, though she took it to heart as much as any of them.
"What in the world are you going to do now, Jo?" asked
Meg one snowy afternoon, as her sister came tramping through
the hall, in rubber boots, old sack, and hood, with a broom
in one hand and a shovel in the other.