Part 9 out of 11
She had not the heart to refuse her splendid, successful boy
anything, and answered warmly . . .
"I'll come, Teddy, rain or shine, and march before you,
playing 'Hail the conquering hero comes' on a jew's-harp."
Laurie thanked her with a look that made her think in a
sudden panic, "Oh, deary me! I know he'll say something, and
then what shall I do?"
Evening meditation and morning work somewhat allayed her
fears, and having decided that she wouldn't be vain enough
to think people were going to propose when she had given them
every reason to know what her answer would be, she set forth
at the appointed time, hoping Teddy wouldn't do anything to
make her hurt his poor feelings. A call at Meg's, and a
refreshing sniff and sip at the Daisy and Demijohn, still
further fortified her for the tete-a-tete, but when she saw
a stalwart figure looming in the distance, she had a strong
desire to turn about and run away.
"Where's the jew's-harp, Jo?" cried Laurie, as soon as
he was within speaking distance.
"I forgot it." And Jo took heart again, for that salutation
could not be called lover-like.
She always used to take his arm on these occasions, now
she did not, and he made no complaint, which was a bad sign,
but talked on rapidly about all sorts of faraway subjects,
till they turned from the road into the little path that led
homeward through the grove. Then he walked more slowly, suddenly
lost his fine flow of language, and now and then a dreadful
pause occurred. To rescue the conversation from one of
the wells of silence into which it kept falling, Jo said
hastily, "Now you must have a good long holiday!"
"I intend to."
Something in his resolute tone made Jo look up quickly to
find him looking down at her with an expression that assured
her the dreaded moment had come, and made her put out her hand
with an imploring, "No, Teddy. Please don't!"
"I will, and you must hear me. It's no use, Jo, we've got
to have it out, and the sooner the better for both of us," he
answered, getting flushed and excited all at once.
"Say what you like then. I'll listen," said Jo, with a
desperate sort of patience.
Laurie was a young lover, but he was in earnest, and meant
to 'have it out', if he died in the attempt, so he plunged into
the subject with characteristic impetuousity, saying in a voice
that would get choky now and then, in spite of manful efforts to
keep it steady . . .
"I've loved you ever since I've known you, Jo, couldn't help
it, you've been so good to me. I've tried to show it, but you
wouldn't let me. Now I'm going to make you hear, and give me an
answer, for I can't go on so any longer."
"I wanted to save you this. I thought you'd understand . . ."
began Jo, finding it a great deal harder than she expected.
"I know you did, but the girls are so queer you never know
what they mean. They say no when they mean yes, and drive a
man out of his wits just for the fun of it," returned Laurie,
entrenching himself behind an undeniable fact.
"I don't. I never wanted to make you care for me so, and
I went away to keep you from it if I could."
"I thought so. It was like you, but it was no use. I
only loved you all the more, and I worked hard to please you,
and I gave up billiards and everything you didn't like, and
waited and never complained, for I hoped you'd love me, though
I'm not half good enough . . ." Here there was a choke that
couldn't be controlled, so he decapitated buttercups while he
cleared his 'confounded throat'.
"You, you are, you're a great deal too good for me, and
I'm so grateful to you, and so proud and fond of you, I don't
know why I can't love you as you want me to. I've tried, but
I can't change the feeling, and it would be a lie to say I do
when I don't."
"Really, truly, Jo?"
He stopped short, and caught both her hands as he put
his question with a look that she did not soon forget.
"Really, truly, dear."
They were in the grove now, close by the stile, and when
the last words fell reluctantly from Jo's lips, Laurie dropped
her hands and turned as if to go on, but for once in his life
the fence was too much for him. So he just laid his head down
on the mossy post, and stood so still that Jo was frightened.
"Oh, Teddy, I'm sorry, so desperately sorry, I could kill
myself if it would do any good! I wish you wouldn't take it
so hard, I can't help it. You know it's impossible for people
to make themselves love other people if they don't," cried Jo
inelegantly but remorsefully, as she softly patted his shoulder,
remembering the time when he had comforted her so long ago.
"They do sometimes," said a muffled voice from the post.
"I don't believe it's the right sort of love, and I'd
rather not try it," was the decided answer.
There was a long pause, while a blackbird sung blithely on
the willow by the river, and the tall grass rustled in the wind.
Presently Jo said very soberly, as she sat down on the step of
the stile, "Laurie, I want to tell you something."
He started as if he had been shot, threw up his head, and
cried out in a fierce tone, "Don't tell me that, Jo, I can't bear
"Tell what?" she asked, wondering at his violence.
"That you love that old man."
"What old man?" demanded Jo, thinking he must mean his
"That devilish Professor you were always writing about.
If you say you love him, I know I shall do something desperate;"
and he looked as if he would keep his word, as he clenched
his hands with a wrathful spark in his eyes.
Jo wanted to laugh, but restrained herself and said warmly,
for she too, was getting excited with all this, "Don't swear,
Teddy! He isn't old, nor anything bad, but good and kind, and
the best friend I've got, next to you. Pray, don't fly into
a passion. I want to be kind, but I know I shall get angry if
you abuse my Professor. I haven't the least idea of loving
him or anybody else."
"But you will after a while, and then what will become of me?"
"You'll love someone else too, like a sensible boy, and
forget all this trouble."
"I can't love anyone else, and I'll never forget you, Jo,
Never! Never!" with a stamp to emphasize his passionate words.
"What shall I do with him?" sighed Jo, finding that emotions
were more unmanagable than she expected. "You haven't heard
what I wanted to tell you. Sit down and listen, for indeed I
want to do right and make you happy," she said, hoping to soothe
him with a little reason, which proved that she knew nothing
Seeing a ray of hope in that last speech, Laurie threw himself
down on the grass at her feet, leaned his arm on the lower
step of the stile, and looked up at her with an expectant face.
Now that arrangement was not conducive to calm speech or clear
thought on Jo's part, for how could she say hard things to her
boy while he watched her with eyes full of love and longing,
and lashes still wet with the bitter drop or two her hardness
of heart had wrung from him? She gently turned his head away,
saying, as she stroked the wavy hair which had been allowed to
grow for her sake--how touching that was, to be sure!
"I agree with Mother that you and I are not suited to each
other, because our quick tempers and strong wills would probably
make us very miserable, if we were so foolish as to . . ."
Jo paused a little over the last word, but Laurie uttered it
with a rapturous expression.
"Marry--no we shouldn't! If you loved me, Jo, I should
be a perfect saint, for you could make me anything you like."
"No, I can't. I've tried and failed, and I won't risk
our happiness by such a serious experiment. We don't agree and
we never shall, so we'll be good friends all our lives, but we
won't go and do anything rash."
"Yes, we will if we get the chance," muttered Laurie rebelliously.
"Now do be reasonable, and take a sensible view of the case,"
implored Jo, almost at her wit's end.
"I won't be reasonable. I don't want to take what you
call 'a sensible view'. It won't help me, and it only makes
it harder. I don't believe you've got any heart."
"I wish I hadn't."
There was a little quiver in Jo's voice, and thinking it a
good omen, Laurie turned round, bringing all his persuasive
powers to bear as he said, in the wheedlesome tone that had
never been so dangerously wheedlesome before, "Don't disappoint
us, dear! Everyone expects it. Grandpa has set his heart upon
it, your people like it, and I can't get on without you. Say
you will, and let's be happy. Do, do!"
Not until months afterward did Jo understand how she had
the strength of mind to hold fast to the resolution she had
made when she decided that she did not love her boy, and
never could. It was very hard to do, but she did it, knowing
that delay was both useless and cruel.
"I can't say 'yes' truly, so I won't say it at all. You'll
see that I'm right, by-and-by, and thank me for it . . ." she
"I'll be hanged if I do!" and Laurie bounced up off the
grass, burning with indignation at the very idea.
"Yes, you will!" persisted Jo. "You'll get over this after
a while, and find some lovely accomplished girl, who will adore
you, and make a fine mistress for your fine house. I shouldn't.
I'm homely and awkward and odd and old, and you'd be ashamed
of me, and we should quarrel--we can't help it even now, you
see--and I shouldn't like elegant society and you would, and
you'd hate my scribbling, and I couldn't get on without it,
and we should be unhappy, and wish we hadn't done it, and
everything would be horrid!"
"Anything more?" asked Laurie, finding it hard to
listen patiently to this prophetic burst.
"Nothing more, except that I don't believe I shall ever
marry. I'm happy as I am, and love my liberty too well to
be in a hurry to give it up for any mortal man."
"I know better!" broke in Laurie. "You think so now,
but there'll come a time when you will care for somebody, and
you'll love him tremendously, and live and die for him. I
know you will, it's your way, and I shall have to stand by
and see it," and the despairing lover cast his hat upon the
ground with a gesture that would have seemed comical, if his
face had not been so tragic.
"Yes, I will live and die for him, if he ever comes and
makes me love him in spite of myself, and you must do the best
you can!" cried Jo, losing patience with poor Teddy. "I've
done my best, but you won't be reasonable, and it's selfish
of you to keep teasing for what I can't give. I shall always
be fond of you, very fond indeed, as a friend, but I'll never
marry you, and the sooner you believe it the better for both
of us--so now!"
That speech was like gunpowder. Laurie looked at her a
minute as if he did not quite know what to do with himself,
then turned sharply away, saying in a desperate sort of tone,
"You'll be sorry some day, Jo."
"Oh, where are you going?" she cried, for his face frightened her.
"To the devil!" was the consoling answer.
For a minute Jo's heart stood still, as he swung himself
down the bank toward the river, but it takes much folly, sin
or misery to send a young man to a violent death, and Laurie
was not one of the weak sort who are conquered by a single
failure. He had no thought of a melodramatic plunge, but
some blind instinct led him to fling hat and coat into his boat,
and row away with all his might, making better time up the
river than he had done in any race. Jo drew a long breath and
unclasped her hands as she watched the poor fellow trying to
outstrip the trouble which he carried in his heart.
"That will do him good, and he'll come home in such a
tender, penitent state of mind, that I shan't dare to see him,"
she said, adding, as she went slowly home, feeling as if she
had murdered some innocent thing, and buried it under the
leaves. "Now I must go and prepare Mr. Laurence to be very
kind to my poor boy. I wish he'd love Beth, perhaps he may
in time, but I begin to think I was mistaken about her. Oh
dear! How can girls like to have lovers and refuse them? I
think it's dreadful."
Being sure that no one could do it so well as herself, she
went straight to Mr. Laurence, told the hard story bravely
through, and then broke down, crying so dismally over her own
insensibility that the kind old gentleman, though sorely disappointed,
did not utter a reproach. He found it difficult to understand
how any girl could help loving Laurie, and hoped she would
change her mind, but he knew even better than Jo that love
cannot be forced, so he shook his head sadly and resolved
to carry his boy out of harm's way, for Young Impetuosity's
parting words to Jo disturbed him more than he would confess.
When Laurie came home, dead tired but quite composed, his
grandfather met him as if he knew nothing, and kept up the
delusion very successfully for an hour or two. But when they
sat together in the twilight, the time they used to enjoy so
much, it was hard work for the old man to ramble on as usual,
and harder still for the young one to listen to praises of
the last year's success, which to him now seemed like love's
labor lost. He bore it as long as he could, then went to
his piano and began to play. The window's were open, and Jo,
walking in the garden with Beth, for once understood music
better than her sister, for he played the '_Sonata Pathetique_',
and played it as he never did before.
"That's very fine, I dare say, but it's sad enough to make
one cry. Give us something gayer, lad," said Mr. Laurence,
whose kind old heart was full of sympathy, which he longed to
show but knew not how.
Laurie dashed into a livelier strain, played stormily for
several minutes, and would have got through bravely, if in a
momentary lull Mrs. March's voice had not been heard calling,
"Jo, dear, come in. I want you."
Just what Laurie longed to say, with a different meaning!
As he listened, he lost his place, the music ended with a broken
chord, and the musician sat silent in the dark.
"I can't stand this," muttered the old gentleman. Up he
got, groped his way to the piano, laid a kind hand on either
of the broad shoulders, and said, as gently as a woman, "I
know, my boy, I know."
No answer for an instant, then Laurie asked sharply, "Who
"Then there's an end of it!" And he shook off his grandfather's
hands with an impatient motion, for though grateful
for the sympathy, his man's pride could not bear a man's pity.
"Not quite. I want to say one thing, and then there shall
be an end of it," returned Mr. Laurence with unusual mildness.
"You won't care to stay at home now, perhaps?"
"I don't intend to run away from a girl. Jo can't prevent
my seeing her, and I shall stay and do it as long as I like,"
interrupted Laurie in a defiant tone.
"Not if you are the gentleman I think you. I'm disappointed,
but the girl can't help it, and the only thing left
for you to do is to go away for a time. Where will you go?"
"Anywhere. I don't care what becomes of me," and Laurie
got up with a reckless laugh that grated on his grandfather's
"Take it like a man, and don't do anything rash, for God's
sake. Why not go abroad, as you planned, and forget it?"
"But you've been wild to go, and I promised you should
when you got through college."
"Ah, but I didn't mean to go alone!" and Laurie walked
fast through the room with an expression which it was well
his grandfather did not see.
"I don't ask you to go alone. There's someone ready and
glad to go with you, anywhere in the world."
"Who, Sir?" stopping to listen.
Laurie came back as quickly as he went, and put out his hand, saying
huskily, "I'm a selfish brute, but--you know--Grandfather--"
"Lord help me, yes, I do know, for I've been through it all
before, once in my own young days, and then with your father.
Now, my dear boy, just sit quietly down and hear my plan. It's
all settled, and can be carried out at once," said Mr. Laurence,
keeping hold of the young man, as if fearful that he would break
away as his father had done before him.
"Well, sir, what is it?" and Laurie sat down, without a
sign of interest in face or voice.
"There is business in London that needs looking after. I
meant you should attend to it, but I can do it better myself,
and things here will get on very well with Brooke to manage
them. My partners do almost everything, I'm merely holding
on until you take my place, and can be off at any time."
"But you hate traveling, Sir. I can't ask it of you at
your age," began Laurie, who was grateful for the sacrifice,
but much preferred to go alone, if he went at all.
The old gentleman knew that perfectly well, and particularly
desired to prevent it, for the mood in which he found his
grandson assured him that it would not be wise to leave him to
his own devices. So, stifling a natural regret at the thought
of the home comforts he would leave behind him, he said stoutly,
"Bless your soul, I'm not superannuated yet. I quite enjoy the
idea. It will do me good, and my old bones won't suffer, for
traveling nowadays is almost as easy as sitting in a chair."
A restless movement from Laurie suggested that his chair
was not easy, or that he did not like the plan, and made the
old man add hastily, "I don't mean to be a marplot or a burden.
I go because I think you'd feel happier than if I was
left behind. I don't intend to gad about with you, but leave
you free to go where you like, while I amuse myself in my own
way. I've friends in London and Paris, and should like to
visit them. Meantime you can go to Italy, Germany, Switzerland,
where you will, and enjoy pictures, music, scenery,
and adventures to your heart's content."
Now, Laurie felt just then that his heart was entirely
broken and the world a howling wilderness, but at the sound
of certain words which the old gentleman artfully introduced
into his closing sentence, the broken heart gave an unexpected
leap, and a green oasis or two suddenly appeared in the howling
wilderness. He sighed, and then said, in a spiritless tone,
"Just as you like, Sir. It doesn't matter where I go or what I do."
"It does to me, remember that, my lad. I give you entire
liberty, but I trust you to make an honest use of it. Promise
me that, Laurie."
"Anything you like, Sir."
"Good," thought the old gentleman. "You don't care now,
but there'll come a time when that promise will keep you out
of mischief, or I'm much mistaken."
Being an energetic individual, Mr. Laurence struck while
the iron was hot, and before the blighted being recovered spirit
enough to rebel, they were off. During the time necessary for
preparation, Laurie bore himself as young gentleman usually do
in such cases. He was moody, irritable, and pensive by turns,
lost his appetite, neglected his dress and devoted much time
to playing tempestuously on his piano, avoided Jo, but consoled
himself by staring at her from his window, with a tragic
face that haunted her dreams by night and oppressed her with a
heavy sense of guilt by day. Unlike some sufferers, he never
spoke of his unrequited passion, and would allow no one, not
even Mrs. March, to attempt consolation or offer sympathy. On
some accounts, this was a relief to his friends, but the weeks
before his departure were very uncomfortable, and everyone rejoiced
that the 'poor, dear fellow was going away to forget his
trouble, and come home happy'. Of course, he smiled darkly at
their delusion, but passed it by with the sad superiority of
one who knew that his fidelity like his love was unalterable.
When the parting came he affected high spirits, to conceal
certain inconvenient emotions which seemed inclined to assert
themselves. This gaiety did not impose upon anybody, but they
tried to look as if it did for his sake, and he got on very well
till Mrs. March kissed him, with a whisper full of motherly
solicitude. Then feeling that he was going very fast, he hastily
embraced them all round, not forgetting the afflicted Hannah, and
ran downstairs as if for his life. Jo followed a minute after to
wave her hand to him if he looked round. He did look round, came
back, put his arms about her as she stood on the step above him,
and looked up at her with a face that made his short appeal eloquent
"Oh, Jo, can't you?"
"Teddy, dear, I wish I could!"
That was all, except a little pause. Then Laurie straightened
himself up, said, "It's all right, never mind," and went away without
another word. Ah, but it wasn't all right, and Jo did mind, for
while the curly head lay on her arm a minute after her hard answer,
she felt as if she had stabbed her dearest friend, and when he left
her without a look behind him, she knew that the boy Laurie never
would come again.
When Jo came home that spring, she had been struck with
the change in Beth. No one spoke of it or seemed aware of it,
for it had come too gradually to startle those who saw her
daily, but to eyes sharpened by absence, it was very plain and
a heavy weight fell on Jo's heart as she saw her sister's face.
It was no paler and but littler thinner than in the autumn, yet
there was a strange, transparent look about it, as if the mortal
was being slowly refined away, and the immortal shining through
the frail flesh with an indescribably pathetic beauty. Jo saw
and felt it, but said nothing at the time, and soon the first
impression lost much of its power, for Beth seemed happy, no
one appeared to doubt that she was better, and presently in
other cares Jo for a time forgot her fear.
But when Laurie was gone, and peace prevailed again, the
vague anxiety returned and haunted her. She had confessed
her sins and been forgiven, but when she showed her savings
and proposed a mountain trip, Beth had thanked her heartily,
but begged not to go so far away from home. Another little
visit to the seashore would suit her better, and as Grandma
could not be prevailed upon to leave the babies, Jo took Beth
down to the quiet place, where she could live much in the
open air, and let the fresh sea breezes blow a little color
into her pale cheeks.
It was not a fashionable place, but even among the pleasant
people there, the girls made few friends, preferring to live for
one another. Beth was too shy to enjoy society, and Jo too
wrapped up in her to care for anyone else. So they were all in
all to each other, and came and went, quite unconscious of the
interest they exited in those about them, who watched with sympathetic
eyes the strong sister and the feeble one, always
together, as if they felt instinctively that a long separation
was not far away.
They did feel it, yet neither spoke of it, for often between
ourselves and those nearest and dearest to us there exists a reserve
which it is very hard to overcome. Jo felt as if a veil
had fallen between her heart and Beth's, but when she put out
her hand to lift it up, there seemed something sacred in the
silence, and she waited for Beth to speak. She wondered, and
was thankful also, that her parents did not seem to see what
she saw, and during the quiet weeks when the shadows grew so
plain to her, she said nothing of it to those at home, believing
that it would tell itself when Beth came back no better.
She wondered still more if her sister really guessed the hard
truth, and what thoughts were passing through her mind during
the long hours when she lay on the warm rocks with her head in
Jo's lap, while the winds blew healthfully over her and the sea
made music at her feet.
One day Beth told her. Jo thought she was asleep, she lay
so still, and putting down her book, sat looking at her with
wistful eyes, trying to see signs of hope in the faint color on
Beth's cheeks. But she could not find enough to satisfy her,
for the cheeks were very thin, and the hands seemed too feeble
to hold even the rosy little shells they had been collecting.
It came to her then more bitterly than ever that Beth was
slowly drifting away from her, and her arms instinctively
tightened their hold upon the dearest treasure she possessed.
For a minute her eyes were too dim for seeing, and when they
cleared, Beth was looking up at her so tenderly that there was
hardly any need for her to say, "Jo, dear, I'm glad you know
it. I've tried to tell you, but I couldn't."
There was no answer except her sister's cheek against her
own, not even tears, for when most deeply moved, Jo did not
cry. She was the weaker then, and Beth tried to comfort and
sustain her, with her arms about her and the soothing words
she whispered in her ear.
"I've known it for a good while, dear, and now I'm used
to it, it isn't hard to think of or to bear. Try to see it so
and don't be troubled about me, because it's best, indeed it is."
"Is this what made you so unhappy in the autumn, Beth? You
did not feel it then, and keep it to yourself so long, did you?"
asked Jo, refusing to see or say that it was best, but glad to
know that Laurie had no part in Beth's trouble.
"Yes, I gave up hoping then, but I didn't like to own it.
I tried to think it was a sick fancy, and would not let it
trouble anyone. But when I saw you all so well and strong and
full of happy plans, it was hard to feel that I could never be
like you, and then I was miserable, Jo."
"Oh, Beth, and you didn't tell me, didn't let me comfort and
help you? How could you shut me out, bear it all alone?"
Jo's voice was full of tender reproach, and her heart ached
to think of the solitary struggle that must have gone on while
Beth learned to say goodbye to health, love, and life, and take
up her cross so cheerfully.
"Perhaps it was wrong, but I tried to do right. I wasn't sure,
no one said anything, and I hoped I was mistaken. It would have
been selfish to frighten you all when Marmee was so anxious about
Meg, and Amy away, and you so happy with Laurie--at least I thought
"And I thought you loved him, Beth, and I went away because
I couldn't," cried Jo, glad to say all the truth.
Beth looked so amazed at the idea that Jo smiled in spite
of her pain, and added softly, "Then you didn't, dearie? I was
afraid it was so, and imagined your poor little heart full of
lovelornity all that while."
"Why, Jo, how could I, when he was so fond of you?" asked
Beth, as innocently as a child. "I do love him dearly. He is
so good to me, how can I help It? But he could never be anything
to me but my brother. I hope he truly will be, sometime."
"Not through me," said Jo decidedly. "Amy is left for him,
and they would suit excellently, but I have no heart for such
things, now. I don't care what becomes of anybody but you, Beth.
You must get well."
"I want to, oh, so much! I try, but every day I lose a little,
and feel more sure that I shall never gain it back. It's like the
tide, Jo, when it turns, it goes slowly, but it can't be stopped."
"It shall be stopped, your tide must not turn so soon, nineteen
is too young, Beth. I can't let you go. I'll work and pray
and fight against it. I'll keep you in spite of everything. There
must be ways, it can't be too late. God won't be so cruel as to
take you from me," cried poor Jo rebelliously, for her spirit was
far less piously submissive than Beth's.
Simple, sincere people seldom speak much of their piety. It
shows itself in acts rather than in words, and has more influence
than homilies or protestations. Beth could not reason upon or
explain the faith that gave her courage and patience to give up
life, and cheerfully wait for death. Like a confiding child, she
asked no questions, but left everything to God and nature, Father
and Mother of us all, feeling sure that they, and they only,
could teach and strengthen heart and spirit for this life and
the life to come. She did not rebuke Jo with saintly speeches,
only loved her better for her passionate affection, and clung
more closely to the dear human love, from which our Father never
means us to be weaned, but through which He draws us closer to
Himself. She could not say, "I'm glad to go," for life was very
sweet for her. She could only sob out, "I try to be willing,"
while she held fast to Jo, as the first bitter wave of this
great sorrow broke over them together.
By and by Beth said, with recovered serenity, "You'll tell
them this when we go home?"
"I think they will see it without words," sighed Jo, for now
it seemed to her that Beth changed every day.
"Perhaps not. I've heard that the people who love best are
often blindest to such things. If they don't see it, you will tell
them for me. I don't want any secrets, and it's kinder to prepare
them. Meg has John and the babies to comfort her, but you must
stand by Father and Mother, won't you Jo?"
"If I can. But, Beth, I don't give up yet. I'm going to believe
that it is a sick fancy, and not let you think it's true."
said Jo, trying to speak cheerfully.
Beth lay a minute thinking, and then said in her quiet way,
"I don't know how to express myself, and shouldn't try to anyone
but you, because I can't speak out except to my Jo. I only mean
to say that I have a feeling that it never was intended I should
live long. I'm not like the rest of you. I never made any plans
about what I'd do when I grew up. I never thought of being married,
as you all did. I couldn't seem to imagine myself anything
but stupid little Beth, trotting about at home, of no use anywhere
but there. I never wanted to go away, and the hard part now is
the leaving you all. I'm not afraid, but it seems as if I should
be homesick for you even in heaven."
Jo could not speak, and for several minutes there was no
sound but the sigh of the wind and the lapping of the tide. A
white-winged gull flew by, with the flash of sunshine on its
silvery breast. Beth watched it till it vanished, and her eyes
were full of sadness. A little gray-coated sand bird came tripping
over the beach 'peeping' softly to itself, as if enjoying
the sun and sea. It came quite close to Beth, and looked at her
with a friendly eye and sat upon a warm stone, dressing its wet
feathers, quite at home. Beth smiled and felt comforted, for
the tiny thing seemed to offer its small friendship and remind
her that a pleasant world was still to be enjoyed.
"Dear little bird! See, Jo, how tame it is. I like peeps
better than the gulls. They are not so wild and handsome, but
they seem happy, confiding little things. I used to call them
my birds last summer, and Mother said they reminded her of me
--busy, quaker-colored creatures, always near the shore, and
always chirping that contented little song of theirs. You are
the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind,
flying far out to sea, and happy all alone. Meg is the turtledove,
and Amy is like the lark she writes about, trying to get
up among the clouds, but always dropping down into its nest
again. Dear little girl! She's so ambitious, but her heart is
good and tender, and no matter how high she flies, she never
will forget home. I hope I shall see her again, but she seems
so far away."
"She is coming in the spring, and I mean that you shall be
all ready to see and enjoy her. I'm going to have you well and
rosy by that time," began Jo, feeling that of all the changes
in Beth, the talking change was the greatest, for it seemed to
cost no effort now, and she thought aloud in a way quite unlike
"Jo, dear, don't hope any more. It won't do any good. I'm
sure of that. We won't be miserable, but enjoy being together
while we wait. We'll have happy times, for I don't suffer much,
and I think the tide will go out easily, if you help me."
Jo leaned down to kiss the tranquil face, and with that
silent kiss, she dedicated herself soul and body to Beth.
She was right. There was no need of any words when they
got home, for Father and Mother saw plainly now what they had
prayed to be saved from seeing. Tired with her short journey,
Beth went at once to bed, saying how glad she was to be home,
and when Jo went down, she found that she would be spared the
hard task of telling Beth's secret. Her father stood leaning
his head on the mantelpiece and did not turn as she came in,
but her mother stretched out her arms as if for help, and Jo
went to comfort her without a word.
At three o'clock in the afternoon, all the fashionable world at Nice
may be seen on the Promenade des Anglais--a charming place, for the
wide walk, bordered with palms, flowers, and tropical shrubs, is
bounded on one side by the sea, on the other by the grand drive,
lined with hotels and villas, while beyond lie orange orchards and
the hills. Many nations are represented, many languages spoken, many
costumes worn, and on a sunny day the spectacle is as gay and
brilliant as a carnival. Haughty English, lively French, sober
Germans, handsome Spaniards, ugly Russians, meek Jews, free-and-easy
Americans, all drive, sit, or saunter here, chatting over the news,
and criticizing the latest celebrity who has arrived--Ristori or
Dickens, Victor Emmanuel or the Queen of the Sandwich Islands. The
equipages are as varied as the company and attract as much
attention, especially the low basket barouches in which ladies drive
themselves, with a pair of dashing ponies, gay nets to keep their
voluminous flounces from overflowing the diminutive vehicles, and
little grooms on the perch behind.
Along this walk, on Christmas Day, a tall young man walked
slowly, with his hands behind him, and a somewhat absent expression
of countenance. He looked like an Italian, was dressed like an
Englishman, and had the independent air of an American--a combination
which caused sundry pairs of feminine eyes to look approvingly
after him, and sundry dandies in black velvet suits, with
rose-colored neckties, buff gloves, and orange flowers in their
buttonholes, to shrug their shoulders, and then envy him his inches.
There were plenty of pretty faces to admire, but the young man took
little notice of them, except to glance now and then at some blonde
girl in blue. Presently he strolled out of the promenade and
stood a moment at the crossing, as if undecided whether to go and
listen to the band in the Jardin Publique, or to wander along the
beach toward Castle Hill. The quick trot of ponies' feet made him
look up, as one of the little carriages, containing a single
young lady, came rapidly down the street. The lady was young,
blonde, and dressed in blue. He stared a minute, then his whole
face woke up, and, waving his hat like a boy, he hurried forward
to meet her.
"Oh, Laurie, is it really you? I thought you'd never come!"
cried Amy, dropping the reins and holding out both hands, to the
great scandalization of a French mamma, who hastened her daughter's
steps, lest she should be demoralized by beholding the free manners
of these 'mad English'.
"I was detained by the way, but I promised to spend Christmas
with you, and here I am."
"How is your grandfather? When did you come? Where are you
"Very well--last night--at the Chauvain. I called at your
hotel, but you were out."
"I have so much to say, I don't know where to begin! Get
in and we can talk at our ease. I was going for a drive and
longing for company. Flo's saving up for tonight."
"What happens then, a ball?"
"A Christmas party at our hotel. There are many Americans
there, and they give it in honor of the day. You'll go with us,
of course? Aunt will be charmed."
"Thank you. Where now?" asked Laurie, leaning back and
folding his arms, a proceeding which suited Amy, who preferred
to drive, for her parasol whip and blue reins over the white
ponies backs afforded her infinite satisfaction.
"I'm going to the bankers first for letters, and then to
Castle Hill. The view is so lovely, and I like to feed the peacocks.
Have you ever been there?"
"Often, years ago, but I don't mind having a look at it."
"Now tell me all about yourself. The last I heard of you,
your grandfather wrote that he expected you from Berlin."
"Yes, I spent a month there and then joined him in Paris,
where he has settled for the winter. He has friends there and
finds plenty to amuse him, so I go and come, and we get on capitally."
"That's a sociable arrangement," said Amy, missing something
in Laurie's manner, though she couldn't tell what.
"Why, you see, he hates to travel, and I hate to keep still,
so we each suit ourselves, and there is no trouble. I am often
with him, and he enjoys my adventures, while I like to feel that
someone is glad to see me when I get back from my wanderings. Dirty
old hole, isn't it?" he added, with a look of disgust as they drove
along the boulevard to the Place Napoleon in the old city.
"The dirt is picturesque, so I don't mind. The river and the
hills are delicious, and these glimpses of the narrow cross streets
are my delight. Now we shall have to wait for that procession to
pass. It's going to the Church of St. John."
While Laurie listlessly watched the procession of priests
under their canopies, white-veiled nuns bearing lighted tapers,
and some brotherhood in blue chanting as they walked, Amy watched
him, and felt a new sort of shyness steal over her, for he was
changed, and she could not find the merry-faced boy she left in
the moody-looking man beside her. He was handsomer than ever and
greatly improved, she thought, but now that the flush of pleasure
at meeting her was over, he looked tired and spiritless--not sick,
nor exactly unhappy, but older and graver than a year or two of
prosperous life should have made him. She couldn't understand it
and did not venture to ask questions, so she shook her head and
touched up her ponies, as the procession wound away across the
arches of the Paglioni bridge and vanished in the church.
"Que pensez-vous?" she said, airing her French, which had
improved in quantity, if not in quality, since she came abroad.
"That mademoiselle has made good use of her time, and the
result is charming," replied Laurie, bowing with his hand on
his heart and an admiring look.
She blushed with pleasure, but somehow the compliment did
not satisfy her like the blunt praises he used to give her at
home, when he promenaded round her on festival occasions, and
told her she was 'altogether jolly', with a hearty smile and an
approving pat on the head. She didn't like the new tone, for
though not blase, it sounded indifferent in spite of the look.
"If that's the way he's going to grow up, I wish he'd stay
a boy," she thought, with a curious sense of disappointment and
discomfort, trying meantime to seem quite easy and gay.
At Avigdor's she found the precious home letters and, giving
the reins to Laurie, read them luxuriously as they wound up the
shady road between green hedges, where tea roses bloomed as freshly
as in June.
"Beth is very poorly, Mother says. I often think I ought to
go home, but they all say 'stay'. So I do, for I shall never have
another chance like this," said Amy, looking sober over one page.
"I think you are right, there. You could do nothing at home,
and it is a great comfort to them to know that you are well and
happy, and enjoying so much, my dear."
He drew a little nearer, and looked more like his old self as
he said that, and the fear that sometimes weighed on Amy's heart
was lightened, for the look, the act, the brotherly 'my dear',
seemed to assure her that if any trouble did come, she would not
be alone in a strange land. Presently she laughed and showed him
a small sketch of Jo in her scribbling suit, with the bow rampantly
erect upon her cap, and issuing from her mouth the words, 'Genius
Laurie smiled, took it, put it in his vest pocket 'to keep it
from blowing away', and listened with interest to the lively letter
Amy read him.
"This will be a regularly merry Christmas to me, with presents
in the morning, you and letters in the afternoon, and a party at
night," said Amy, as they alighted among the ruins of the old fort,
and a flock of splendid peacocks came trooping about them, tamely
waiting to be fed. While Amy stood laughing on the bank above him
as she scattered crumbs to the brilliant birds, Laurie looked at her
as she had looked at him, with a natural curiosity to see what
changes time and absence had wrought. He found nothing to perplex
or disappoint, much to admire and approve, for overlooking a few
little affectations of speech and manner, she was as sprightly and
graceful as ever, with the addition of that indescribable something
in dress and bearing which we call elegance. Always mature for her
age, she had gained a certain aplomb in both carriage and conversation,
which made her seem more of a woman of the world than she was, but
her old petulance now and then showed itself, her strong will still
held its own, and her native frankness was unspoiled by foreign
Laurie did not read all this while he watched her feed the peacocks,
but he saw enough to satisfy and interest him, and carried
away a pretty little picture of a bright-faced girl standing in the
sunshine, which brought out the soft hue of her dress, the fresh
color of her cheeks, the golden gloss of her hair, and made her a
prominent figure in the pleasant scene.
As they came up onto the stone plateau that crowns the hill,
Amy waved her hand as if welcoming him to her favorite haunt, and
said, pointing here and there, "Do you remember the Cathedral and
the Corso, the fishermen dragging their nets in the bay, and the
lovely road to Villa Franca, Schubert's Tower, just below, and best
of all, that speck far out to sea which they say is Corsica?"
"I remember. It's not much changed," he answered without
"What Jo would give for a sight of that famous speck!" said
Amy, feeling in good spirits and anxious to see him so also.
"Yes," was all he said, but he turned and strained his eyes to
see the island which a greater usurper than even Napoleon now made
interesting in his sight.
"Take a good look at it for her sake, and then come and tell
me what you have been doing with yourself all this while," said
Amy, seating herself, ready for a good talk.
But she did not get it, for though he joined her and answered
all her questions freely, she could only learn that he had roved
about the Continent and been to Greece. So after idling away an
hour, they drove home again, and having paid his respects to Mrs.
Carrol, Laurie left them, promising to return in the evening.
It must be recorded of Amy that she deliberately prinked that
night. Time and absence had done its work on both the young people.
She had seen her old friend in a new light, not as 'our boy', but as
a handsome and agreeable man, and she was conscious of a very natural
desire to find favor in his sight. Amy knew her good points, and
made the most of them with the taste and skill which is a fortune to
a poor and pretty woman.
Tarlatan and tulle were cheap at Nice, so she enveloped herself
in them on such occasions, and following the sensible English fashion
of simple dress for young girls, got up charming little toilettes
with fresh flowers, a few trinkets, and all manner of dainty devices,
which were both inexpensive and effective. It must be confessed
that the artist sometimes got possession of the woman, and indulged
in antique coiffures, statuesque attitudes, and classic draperies.
But, dear heart, we all have our little weaknesses, and find it
easy to pardon such in the young, who satisfy our eyes with their
comeliness, and keep our hearts merry with their artless vanities.
"I do want him to think I look well, and tell them so at home,"
said Amy to herself, as she put on Flo's old white silk ball dress,
and covered it with a cloud of fresh illusion, out of which her
white shoulders and golden head emerged with a most artistic effect.
Her hair she had the sense to let alone, after gathering up the
thick waves and curls into a Hebe-like knot at the back of her head.
"It's not the fashion, but it's becoming, and I can't afford to
make a fright of myself," she used to say, when advised to frizzle,
puff, or braid, as the latest style commanded.
Having no ornaments fine enough for this important occasion,
Amy looped her fleecy skirts with rosy clusters of azalea, and
framed the white shoulders in delicate green vines. Remembering
the painted boots, she surveyed her white satin slippers with
girlish satisfaction, and chassed down the room, admiring her
aristocratic feet all by herself.
"My new fan just matches my flowers, my gloves fit to a charm,
and the real lace on Aunt's mouchoir gives an air to my whole dress.
If I only had a classical nose and mouth I should be perfectly happy,"
she said, surveying herself with a critical eye and a candle in
In spite of this affliction, she looked unusually gay and
graceful as she glided away. She seldom ran--it did not suit her
style, she thought, for being tall, the stately and Junoesque was
more appropriate than the sportive or piquante. She walked up and
down the long saloon while waiting for Laurie, and once arranged
herself under the chandelier, which had a good effect upon her
hair, then she thought better of it, and went away to the other
end of the room, as if ashamed of the girlish desire to have the
first view a propitious one. It so happened that she could not
have done a better thing, for Laurie came in so quietly she
did not hear him, and as she stood at the distant window, with
her head half turned and one hand gathering up her dress, the
slender, white figure against the red curtains was as effective
as a well-placed statue.
"Good evening, Diana!" said Laurie, with the look of satisfaction
she liked to see in his eyes when they rested on her.
"Good evening, Apollo!" she answered, smiling back at him,
for he too looked unusually debonair, and the thought of
entering the ballroom on the arm of such a personable man
caused Amy to pity the four plain Misses Davis from the bottom
of her heart.
"Here are your flowers. I arranged them myself, remembering
that you didn't like what Hannah calls a 'sot-bookay'," said
Laurie, handing her a delicate nosegay, in a holder that she
had long coveted as she daily passed it in Cardiglia's window.
"How kind you are!" she exclaimed gratefully. "If I'd
known you were coming I'd have had something ready for you today,
though not as pretty as this, I'm afraid."
"Thank you. It isn't what it should be, but you have improved it,"
he added, as she snapped the silver bracelet on her wrist.
"I thought you liked that sort of thing."
"Not from you, it doesn't sound natural, and I like your
old bluntness better."
"I'm glad of it," he answered, with a look of relief, then
buttoned her gloves for her, and asked if his tie was straight,
just as he used to do when they went to parties together at home.
The company assembled in the long salle a manger, that
evening, was such as one sees nowhere but on the Continent. The
hospitable Americans had invited every acquaintance they had
in Nice, and having no prejudice against titles, secured a few
to add luster to their Christmas ball.
A Russian prince condescended to sit in a corner for an
hour and talk with a massive lady, dressed like Hamlet's mother
in black velvet with a pearl bridle under her chin. A Polish
count, aged eighteen, devoted himself to the ladies, who pronounced
him, 'a fascinating dear', and a German Serene Something,
having come to supper alone, roamed vaguely about, seeking what
he might devour. Baron Rothschild's private secretary, a large-nosed
Jew in tight boots, affably beamed upon the world, as if
his master's name crowned him with a golden halo. A stout
Frenchman, who knew the Emperor, came to indulge his mania for
dancing, and Lady de Jones, a British matron, adorned the scene
with her little family of eight. Of course, there were many
light-footed, shrill-voiced American girls, handsome, lifeless-looking
English ditto, and a few plain but piquante French demoiselles,
likewise the usual set of traveling young gentlemen
who disported themselves gaily, while mammas of all nations
lined the walls and smiled upon them benignly when they danced
with their daughters.
Any young girl can imagine Amy's state of mind when she
'took the stage' that night, leaning on Laurie's arm. She
knew she looked well, she loved to dance, she felt that her
foot was on her native heath in a ballroom, and enjoyed the
delightful sense of power which comes when young girls first
discover the new and lovely kingdom they are born to rule by
virtue of beauty, youth, and womanhood. She did pity the
Davis girls, who were awkward, plain, and destitute of escort,
except a grim papa and three grimmer maiden aunts, and she
bowed to them in her friendliest manner as she passed, which
was good of her, as it permitted them to see her dress, and
burn with curiosity to know who her distinguished-looking
friend might be. With the first burst of the band, Amy's
color rose, her eyes began to sparkle, and her feet to tap the
floor impatiently, for she danced well and wanted Laurie to
know it. Therefore the shock she received can better be
imagined than described, when he said in a perfectly tranquil
tone, "Do you care to dance?"
"One usually does at a ball."
Her amazed look and quick answer caused Laurie to repair
his error as fast as possible.
"I meant the first dance. May I have the honor?"
"I can give you one if I put off the Count. He dances
devinely, but he will excuse me, as you are an old friend," said
Amy, hoping that the name would have a good effect, and show
Laurie that she was not to be trifled with.
"Nice little boy, but rather a short Pole to support . . .
A daughter of the gods,
Devinely tall, and most devinely fair,"
was all the satisfaction she got, however.
The set in which they found themselves was composed of
English, and Amy was compelled to walk decorously through a
cotillion, feeling all the while as if she could dance the
tarantella with relish. Laurie resigned her to the 'nice little
boy', and went to do his duty to Flo, without securing Amy for
the joys to come, which reprehensible want of forethought was
properly punished, for she immediately engaged herself till
supper, meaning to relent if he then gave any signs penitence.
She showed him her ball book with demure satisfaction when he
strolled instead of rushed up to claim her for the next, a
glorious polka redowa. But his polite regrets didn't impose
upon her, and when she galloped away with the Count, she saw
Laurie sit down by her aunt with an actual expression of relief.
That was unpardonable, and Amy took no more notice of him
for a long while, except a word now and then when she came to
her chaperon between the dances for a necessary pin or a
moment's rest. Her anger had a good effect, however, for she
hid it under a smiling face, and seemed unusually blithe and
brilliant. Laurie's eyes followed her with pleasure, for she
neither romped nor sauntered, but danced with spirit and
grace, making the delightsome pastime what it should be. He
very naturally fell to studying her from this new point of
view, and before the evening was half over, had decided that
'little Amy was going to make a very charming woman'.
It was a lively scene, for soon the spirit of the social
season took possession of everyone, and Christmas merriment made
all faces shine, hearts happy, and heels light. The musicians
fiddled, tooted, and banged as if they enjoyed it, everybody
danced who could, and those who couldn't admired their
neighbors with uncommon warmth. The air was dark with Davises,
and many Joneses gamboled like a flock of young giraffes. The
golden secretary darted through the room like a meteor with
a dashing frenchwoman who carpeted the floor with her pink satin
train. The serene Teuton found the supper-table and was happy,
eating steadily through the bill of fare, and dismayed the
garcons by the ravages he committed. But the Emperor's friend
covered himself with glory, for he danced everything, whether
he knew it or not, and introduced impromptu pirouettes when the
figures bewildered him. The boyish abandon of that stout man
was charming to behold, for though he 'carried weight', he
danced like an India-rubber ball. He ran, he flew, he pranced,
his face glowed, his bald head shown, his coattails waved wildly,
his pumps actually twinkled in the air, and when the music
stopped, he wiped the drops from his brow, and beamed upon his
fellow men like a French Pickwick without glasses.
Amy and her Pole distinguished themselves by equal enthusiasm
but more graceful agility, and Laurie found himself
involuntarily keeping time to the rhythmic rise and fall of the
white slippers as they flew by as indefatigably as if winged.
When little Vladimir finally relinquished her, with assurances
that he was 'desolated to leave so early', she was ready to
rest, and see how her recreant knight had borne his punishment.
It had been successful, for at three-and-twenty, blighted
affections find a balm in friendly society, and young nerves
will thrill, young blood dance, and healthy young spirits rise,
when subjected to the enchantment of beauty, light, music, and
motion. Laurie had a waked-up look as he rose to give her his
seat, and when he hurried away to bring her some supper, she
said to herself, with a satisfied smile, "Ah, I thought that
would do him good!"
"You look like Balzac's '_Femme Peinte Par Elle-Meme_',"
he said, as he fanned her with one hand and held her coffee
cup in the other.
"My rouge won't come off." and Amy rubbed her brilliant
cheek, and showed him her white glove with a sober simplicity
that made him laugh outright.
"What do you call this stuff?" he asked, touching a fold
of her dress that had blown over his knee.
"Good name for it. It's very pretty--new thing, isn't it?"
"It's as old as the hills. You have seen it on dozens of
girls, and you never found out that it was pretty till now--
"I never saw it on you before, which accounts for the mistake,
"None of that, it is forbidden. I'd rather take coffee
than compliments just now. No, don't lounge, it makes me nervous."
Laurie sat bold upright, and meekly took her empty plate
feeling an odd sort of pleasure in having 'little Amy' order
him about, for she had lost her shyness now, and felt an
irrestible desire to trample on him, as girls have a delightful
way of doing when lords of creation show any signs of subjection.
"Where did you learn all this sort of thing?" he asked with
a quizzical look.
"As 'this sort of thing' is rather a vague expression, would
you kindly explain?" returned Amy, knowing perfectly well what he
meant, but wickedly leaving him to describe what is indescribable.
"Well--the general air, the style, the self-possession, the--
the--illusion--you know", laughed Laurie, breaking down and helping
himself out of his quandary with the new word.
Amy was gratified, but of course didn't show it, and demurely
answered, "Foreign life polishes one in spite of one's self. I
study as well as play, and as for this"--with a little gesture
toward her dress--"why, tulle is cheap, posies to be had for
nothing, and I am used to making the most of my poor little things."
Amy rather regretted that last sentence, fearing it wasn't in
good taste, but Laurie liked her better for it, and found himself
both admiring and respecting the brave patience that made the most
of opportunity, and the cheerful spirit that covered poverty with
flowers. Amy did not know why he looked at her so kindly, nor
why he filled up her book with his own name, and devoted himself
to her for the rest of the evening in the most delightful manner;
but the impulse that wrought this agreeable change was the result
of one of the new impressions which both of them were unconsciously
giving and receiving.
ON THE SHELF
In France the young girls have a dull time of it till they are
married, when 'Vive la liberte!' becomes their motto. In America,
as everyone knows, girls early sign the declaration of independence,
and enjoy their freedom with republican zest, but the young matrons
usually abdicate with the first heir to the throne and go into a
seclusion almost as close as a French nunnery, though by no means
as quiet. Whether they like it or not, they are virtually put
upon the shelf as soon as the wedding excitement is over, and most
of them might exclaim, as did a very pretty woman the other day,
"I'm as handsome as ever, but no one takes any notice of me because
Not being a belle or even a fashionable lady, Meg did not
experience this affliction till her babies were a year old,
for in her little world primitive customs prevailed, and she
found herself more admired and beloved than ever.
As she was a womanly little woman, the maternal instinct
was very strong, and she was entirely absorbed in her children,
to the utter exclusion of everything and everybody else. Day
and night she brooded over them with tireless devotion and
anxiety, leaving John to the tender mercies of the help, for
an Irish lady now presided over the kitchen department. Being
a domestic man, John decidedly missed the wifely attentions he
had been accustomed to receive, but as he adored his babies, he
cheerfully relinquished his comfort for a time, supposing with
masculine ignorance that peace would soon be restored. But
three months passed, and there was no return of repose. Meg
looked worn and nervous, the babies absorbed every minute of
her time, the house was neglected, and Kitty, the cook, who took
life 'aisy', kept him on short commons. When he went out in
the morning he was bewildered by small commissions for the captive
mamma, if he came gaily in at night, eager to embrace his
family, he was quenched by a "Hush! They are just asleep after
worrying all day." If he proposed a little amusement at home,
"No, it would disturb the babies." If he hinted at a lecture
or a concert, he was answered with a reproachful look, and a
decided - "Leave my children for pleasure, never!" His sleep was
broken by infant wails and visions of a phantom figure pacing
noiselessly to and fro in the watches of the night. His meals
were interrupted by the frequent flight of the presiding genius,
who deserted him, half-helped, if a muffled chirp sounded from
the nest above. And when he read his paper of an evening,
Demi's colic got into the shipping list and Daisy's fall affected
the price of stocks, for Mrs. Brooke was only interested in domestic
The poor man was very uncomfortable, for the children had
bereft him of his wife, home was merely a nursery and the perpetual
'hushing' made him feel like a brutal intruder whenever
he entered the sacred precincts of Babyland. He bore it very
patiently for six months, and when no signs of amendment appeared,
he did what other paternal exiles do--tried to get a little comfort
elsewhere. Scott had married and gone to housekeeping not
far off, and John fell into the way of running over for an hour
or two of an evening, when his own parlor was empty, and his
own wife singing lullabies that seemed to have no end. Mrs.
Scott was a lively, pretty girl, with nothing to do but be
agreeable, and she performed her mission most successfully. The
parlor was always bright and attractive, the chessboard ready,
the piano in tune, plenty of gay gossip, and a nice little supper
set forth in tempting style.
John would have preferred his own fireside if it had not
been so lonely, but as it was he gratefully took the next best
thing and enjoyed his neighbor's society.
Meg rather approved of the new arrangement at first, and
found it a relief to know that John was having a good time
instead of dozing in the parlor, or tramping about the house
and waking the children. But by-and-by, when the teething
worry was over and the idols went to sleep at proper hours,
leaving Mamma time to rest, she began to miss John, and find
her workbasket dull company, when he was not sitting opposite
in his old dressing gown, comfortably scorching his slippers
on the fender. She would not ask him to stay at home, but felt
injured because he did not know that she wanted him without
being told, entirely forgetting the many evenings he had waited
for her in vain. She was nervous and worn out with watching
and worry, and in that unreasonable frame of mind which the best
of mothers occasionally experience when domestic cares oppress
them. Want of exercise robs them of cheerfulness, and too much
devotion to that idol of American women, the teapot, makes them
feel as if they were all nerve and no muscle.
"Yes," she would say, looking in the glass, "I'm getting
old and ugly. John doesn't find me interesting any longer, so
he leaves his faded wife and goes to see his pretty neighbor,
who has no incumbrances. Well, the babies love me, they don't
care if I am thin and pale and haven't time to crimp my hair,
they are my comfort, and some day John will see what I've
gladly sacrificed for them, won't he, my precious?"
To which pathetic appeal Daisy would answer with a coo,
or Demi with a crow, and Meg would put by her lamentations for
a maternal revel, which soothed her solitude for the time being.
But the pain increased as politics absorbed John, who was always
running over to discuss interesting points with Scott, quite
unconscious that Meg missed him. Not a word did she say, however,
till her mother found her in tears one day, and insisted
on knowing what the matter was, for Meg's drooping spirits had
not escaped her observation.
"I wouldn't tell anyone except you, Mother, but I really
do need advice, for if John goes on much longer I might as well
be widowed," replied Mrs. Brooke, drying her tears on Daisy's
bib with an injured air.
"Goes on how, my dear?" asked her mother anxiously.
"He's away all day, and at night when I want to see him,
he is continually going over to the Scotts'. It isn't fair
that I should have the hardest work, and never any amusement.
Men are very selfish, even the best of them."
"So are women. Don't blame John till you see where you
are wrong yourself."
"But it can't be right for him to neglect me."
"Don't you neglect him?"
"Why, Mother, I thought you'd take my part!"
"So I do, as far as sympathizing goes, but I think the fault
is yours, Meg."
"I don't see how."
"Let me show you. Did John ever neglect you, as you call it,
while you made it a point to give him your society of an evening,
his only leisure time?"
"No, but I can't do it now, with two babies to tend."
"I think you could, dear, and I think you ought. May I
speak quite freely, and will you remember that it's Mother who
blames as well as Mother who sympathizes?"
"Indeed I will! Speak to me as if I were little Meg again.
I often feel as if I needed teaching more than ever since these
babies look to me for everything."
Meg drew her low chair beside her mother's, and with a little
interruption in either lap, the two women rocked and talked lovingly
together, feeling that the tie of motherhood made them more one
"You have only made the mistake that most young wives make--forgotten
your duty to your husband in your love for your children.
A very natural and forgivable mistake, Meg, but one that
had better be remedied before you take to different ways, for
children should draw you nearer than ever, not separate you, as
if they were all yours, and John had nothing to do but support
them. I've seen it for some weeks, but have not spoken, feeling
sure it would come right in time."
"I'm afraid it won't. If I ask him to stay, he'll think I'm
jealous, and I wouldn't insult him by such an idea. He doesn't
see that I want him, and I don't know how to tell him without
"Make it so pleasant he won't want to go away. My dear,
he's longing for his little home, but it isn't home without you,
and you are always in the nursery."
"Oughtn't I to be there?"
"Not all the time, too much confinement makes you nervous,
and then you are unfitted for everything. Besides, you owe
something to John as well as to the babies. Don't neglect husband
for children, don't shut him out of the nursery, but teach
him how to help in it. His place is there as well as yours, and
the children need him. Let him feel that he has a part to do, and
he will do it gladly and faithfully, and it will be better for you
"You really think so, Mother?"
"I know it, Meg, for I've tried it, and I seldom give advice unless
I've proved its practicability. When you and Jo were little, I went
on just as you are, feeling as if I didn't do my duty unless I
devoted myself wholly to you. Poor Father took to his books, after I
had refused all offers of help, and left me to try my experiment
alone. I struggled along as well as I could, but Jo was too much for
me. I nearly spoiled her by indulgence. You were poorly, and I
worried about you till I fell sick myself. Then Father came to the
rescue, quietly managed everything, and made himself so helpful that
I saw my mistake, and never have been able to got on without him
since. That is the secret of our home happiness. He does not let
business wean him from the little cares and duties that affect us
all, and I try not to let domestic worries destroy my interest in
his pursuits. Each do our part alone in many things, but at home we
work together, always."
"It is so, Mother, and my great wish is to be to my husband
and children what you have been to yours. Show me how, I'll do
anything you say."
"You always were my docile daughter. Well, dear, if I were
you, I'd let John have more to do with the management of Demi,
for the boy needs training, and it's none too soon to begin.
Then I'd do what I have often proposed, let Hannah come and
help you. She is a capital nurse, and you may trust the precious
babies to her while you do more housework. You need the exercise,
Hannah would enjoy the rest, and John would find his wife again.
Go out more, keep cheerful as well as busy, for you are the
sunshine-maker of the family, and if you get dismal there is no
fair weather. Then I'd try to take an interest in whatever John
likes--talk with him, let him read to you, exchange ideas, and
help each other in that way. Don't shut yourself up in a bandbox
because you are a woman, but understand what is going on, and
educate yourself to take your part in the world's work, for it
all affects you and yours."
"John is so sensible, I'm afraid he will think I'm stupid if
I ask questions about politics and things."
"I don't believe he would. Love covers a multitude of sins,
and of whom could you ask more freely than of him? Try it, and
see if he doesn't find your society far more agreeable than Mrs.
"I will. Poor John! I'm afraid I have neglected him sadly,
but I thought I was right, and he never said anything."
"He tried not to be selfish, but he has felt rather forlorn,
I fancy. This is just the time, Meg, when young married people
are apt to grow apart, and the very time when they ought to be
most together, for the first tenderness soon wears off, unless
care is taken to preserve it. And no time is so beautiful and
precious to parents as the first years of the little lives
given to them to train. Don't let John be a stranger to the
babies, for they will do more to keep him safe and happy in
this world of trial and temptation than anything else, and
through them you will learn to know and love one another as
you should. Now, dear, good-by. Think over Mother's preachment,
act upon it if it seems good, and God bless you all."
Meg did think it over, found it good, and acted upon it,
though the first attempt was not made exactly as she planned
to have it. Of course the children tyrannized over her, and
ruled the house as soon as they found out that kicking and
squalling brought them whatever they wanted. Mamma was an
abject slave to their caprices, but Papa was not so easily
subjugated, and occasionally afflicted his tender spouse by
an attempt at paternal discipline with his obstreperous son.
For Demi inherited a trifle of his sire's firmness of character,
we won't call it obstinacy, and when he made up his
little mind to have or to do anything, all the king's horses and
all the king's men could not change that pertinacious little
mind. Mamma thought the dear too young to be taught to conquer
his prejudices, but Papa believed that it never was too
soon to learn obedience. So Master Demi early discovered that
when he undertook to 'wrastle' with 'Parpar', he always got
the worst of it, yet like the Englishman, baby respected the
man who conquered him, and loved the father whose grave "No,
no," was more impressive than all Mamma's love pats.
A few days after the talk with her mother, Meg resolved
to try a social evening with John, so she ordered a nice
supper, set the parlor in order, dressed herself prettily, and
put the children to bed early, that nothing should interfere
with her experiment. But unfortunately Demi's most unconquerable
prejudice was against going to bed, and that night he decided
to go on a rampage. So poor Meg sang and rocked,
told stories and tried every sleep-prevoking wile she could
devise, but all in vain, the big eyes wouldn't shut, and long
after Daisy had gone to byelow, like the chubby little bunch
of good nature she was, naughty Demi lay staring at the light,
with the most discouragingly wide-awake expression of countenance.
"Will Demi lie still like a good boy, while Mamma runs
down and gives poor Papa his tea?" asked Meg, as the hall
door softly closed, and the well-known step went tip-toeing
into the dining room.
"Me has tea!" said Demi, preparing to join in the revel.
"No, but I'll save you some little cakies for breakfast,
if you'll go bye-bye like Daisy. Will you, lovey?"
"Iss!" and Demi shut his eyes tight, as if to catch sleep
and hurry the desired day.
Taking advantage of the propitious moment, Meg slipped
away and ran down to greet her husband with a smiling face
and the little blue bow in her hair which was his especial
admiration. He saw it at once and said with pleased surprise,
"Why, little mother, how gay we are tonight. Do you expect
"Only you, dear."
"Is it a birthday, anniversary, or anything?"
"No, I'm tired of being dowdy, so I dressed up as a
change. You always make yourself nice for table, no matter
how tired you are, so why shouldn't I when I have the time?"
"I do it out of respect for you, my dear," said old-fashioned John.
"Ditto, ditto, Mr. Brooke," laughed Meg, looking young
and pretty again, as she nodded to him over the teapot.
"Well, it's altogether delightful, and like old times. This tastes
right. I drink your health, dear." and John sipped his tea with an
air of reposeful rapture, which was of very short duration however,
for as he put down his cup, the door handle rattled mysteriously,
and a little voice was heard, saying impatiently . . .
"Opy doy. Me's tummin!"
"It's that naughty boy. I told him to go to sleep alone,
and here he is, downstairs, getting his death a-cold pattering
over that canvas," said Meg, answering the call.
"Mornin' now," announced Demi in joyful tone as he entered,
with his long nightgown gracefully festooned over his arm and
every curl bobbing gayly as he pranced about the table, eyeing
the 'cakies' with loving glances.
"No, it isn't morning yet. You must go to bed, and not
trouble poor Mamma. Then you can have the little cake with
sugar on it."
"Me loves Parpar," said the artful one, preparing to climb
the paternal knee and revel in forbidden joys. But John shook
his head, and said to Meg . . .
"If you told him to stay up there, and go to sleep alone,
make him do it, or he will never learn to mind you."
"Yes, of course. Come, Demi," and Meg led her son away,
feeling a strong desire to spank the little marplot who hopped
beside her, laboring under the delusion that the bribe was to
be administered as soon as they reached the nursery.
Nor was he disappointed, for that shortsighted woman
actually gave him a lump of sugar, tucked him into his bed,
and forbade any more promenades till morning.
"Iss!" said Demi the perjured, blissfully sucking his sugar,
and regarding his first attempt as eminently successful.
Meg returned to her place, and supper was progressing
pleasantly, when the little ghost walked again, and exposed
the maternal delinquencies by boldly demanding, "More sudar,
"Now this won't do," said John, hardening his heart against
the engaging little sinner. "We shall never know any peace till
that child learns to go to bed properly. You have made a slave of
yourself long enough. Give him one lesson, and then there will
be an end of it. Put him in his bed and leave him, Meg."
"He won't stay there, he never does unless I sit by him."
"I'll manage him. Demi, go upstairs, and get into your bed,
as Mamma bids you."
"S'ant!" replied the young rebel, helping himself to the
coveted 'cakie', and beginning to eat the same with calm audacity.
"You must never say that to Papa. I shall carry you if you
don't go yourself."
"Go 'way, me don't love Parpar." and Demi retired to his
mother's skirts for protection.
But even that refuge proved unavailing, for he was delivered
over to the enemy, with a "Be gentle with him, John,"
which struck the culprit with dismay, for when Mamma deserted
him, then the judgment day was at hand. Bereft of his cake,
defrauded of his frolic, and borne away by a strong hand to
that detested bed, poor Demi could not restrain his wrath, but
openly defied Papa, and kicked and screamed lustily all the
way upstairs. The minute he was put into bed on one side, he
rolled out on the other, and made for the door, only to be
ignominiously caught up by the tail of his little toga and
put back again, which lively performance was kept up till the
young man's strength gave out, when he devoted himself to
roaring at the top of his voice. This vocal exercise usually
conquered Meg, but John sat as unmoved as the post which is
popularly believed to be deaf. No coaxing, no sugar, no
lullaby, no story, even the light was put out and only the
red glow of the fire enlivened the 'big dark' which Demi
regarded with curiosity rather than fear. This new order
of things disgusted him, and he howled dismally for 'Marmar',
as his angry passions subsided, and recollections of his
tender bondwoman returned to the captive autocrat. The
plaintive wail which succeeded the passionate roar went to
Meg's heart, and she ran up to say beseechingly . . .
"Let me stay with him, he'll be good now, John."
"No, my dear. I've told him he must go to sleep, as you
bid him, and he must, if I stay here all night."
"But he'll cry himself sick," pleaded Meg, reproaching herself
for deserting her boy.
"No, he won't, he's so tired he will soon drop off and then
the matter is settled, for he will understand that he has got to
mind. Don't interfere, I'll manage him."
"He's my child, and I can't have his spirit broken by harshness."
"He's my child, and I won't have his temper spoiled by
indulgence. Go down, my dear, and leave the boy to me."
When John spoke in that masterful tone, Meg always obeyed,
and never regretted her docility.
"Please let me kiss him once, John?"
"Certainly. Demi, say good night to Mamma, and let her go and rest,
for she is very tired with taking care of you all day."
Meg always insisted upon it that the kiss won the victory,
for after it was given, Demi sobbed more quietly, and lay quite
still at the bottom of the bed, whither he had wriggled in his
anguish of mind.
"Poor little man, he's worn out with sleep and crying. I'll
cover him up, and then go and set Meg's heart at rest," thought
John, creeping to the bedside, hoping to find his rebellious
But he wasn't, for the moment his father peeped at him,
Demi's eyes opened, his little chin began to quiver, and he put
up his arms, saying with a penitent hiccough, "Me's dood, now."
Sitting on the stairs outside Meg wondered at the long
silence which followed the uproar, and after imagining all
sorts of impossible accidents, she slipped into the room to
set her fears at rest. Demi lay fast asleep, not in his usual
spreadeagle attitude, but in a subdued bunch, cuddled close in
the circle of his father's arm and holding his father's finger,
as if he felt that justice was tempered with mercy, and had
gone to sleep a sadder and wiser baby. So held, John had waited
with a womanly patience till the little hand relaxed its hold,
and while waiting had fallen asleep, more tired by that tussle
with his son than with his whole day's work.
As Meg stood watching the two faces on the pillow, she
smiled to herself, and then slipped away again, saying in a
satisfied tone, "I never need fear that John will be too harsh
with my babies. He does know how to manage them, and will be
a great help, for Demi is getting too much for me."
When John came down at last, expecting to find a pensive
or reproachful wife, he was agreeably surprised to find Meg
placidly trimming a bonnet, and to be greeted with the request
to read something about the election, if he was not
too tired. John saw in a minute that a revolution of some
kind was going on, but wisely asked no questions, knowing
that Meg was such a transparent little person, she couldn't
keep a secret to save her life, and therefore the clue would
soon appear. He read a long debate with the most amiable
readiness and then explained it in his most lucid manner,
while Meg tried to look deeply interested, to ask intelligent
questions, and keep her thoughts from wandering from the
state of the nation to the state of her bonnet. In her secret
soul, however, she decided that politics were as bad as mathematics,
and that the mission of politicians seemed to be calling
each other names, but she kept these feminine ideas to herself,
and when John paused, shook her head and said with what she
thought diplomatic ambiguity, "Well, I really don't see what
we are coming to."
John laughed, and watched her for a minute, as she poised
a pretty little preparation of lace and flowers on her hand,
and regarded it with the genuine interest which his harangue
had failed to waken.
"She is trying to like politics for my sake, so I'll try and like
millinery for hers, that's only fair," thought John the Just, adding
aloud, "That's very pretty. Is it what you call a breakfast cap?"
"My dear man, it's a bonnet! My very best go-to-concert-and-theater
"I beg your pardon, it was so small, I naturally mistook
it for one of the flyaway things you sometimes wear.
How do you keep it on?"
"These bits of lace are fastened under the chin with a rosebud, so,"
and Meg illustrated by putting on the bonnet and regarding
him with an air of calm satisfaction that was irresistible.
"It's a love of a bonnet, but I prefer the face inside, for
it looks young and happy again," and John kissed the smiling
face, to the great detriment of the rosebud under the chin.
"I'm glad you like it, for I want you to take me to one
of the new concerts some night. I really need some music to
put me in tune. Will you, please?"
"Of course I will, with all my heart, or anywhere else you
like. You have been shut up so long, it will do you no end of
good, and I shall enjoy it, of all things. What put it into
your head, little mother?"
"Well, I had a talk with Marmee the other day, and told
her how nervous and cross and out of sorts I felt, and she
said I needed change and less care, so Hannah is to help me
with the children, and I'm to see to things about the house more,
and now and then have a little fun, just to keep me from getting
to be a fidgety, broken-down old woman before my time. It's
only an experiment, John, and I want to try it for your sake
as much as for mine, because I've neglected you shamefully
lately, and I'm going to make home what it used to be, if I
can. You don't object, I hope?"
Never mind what John said, or what a very narrow escape
the little bonnet had from utter ruin. All that we have any
business to know is that John did not appear to object, judging
from the changes which gradually took place in the house
and its inmates. It was not all Paradise by any means, but
everyone was better for the division of labor system. The
children throve under the paternal rule, for accurate, stedfast
John brought order and obedience into Babydom, while Meg
recovered her spirits and composed her nerves by plenty of
wholesome exercise, a little pleasure, and much confidential
conversation with her sensible husband. Home grew homelike
again, and John had no wish to leave it, unless he took Meg
with him. The Scotts came to the Brookes' now, and everyone
found the little house a cheerful place, full of happiness,
content, and family love. Even Sallie Moffatt liked to go
there. "It is always so quiet and pleasant here, it does me
good, Meg," she used to say, looking about her with wistful
eyes, as if trying to discover the charm, that she might use
it in her great house, full of splendid loneliness, for there
were no riotous, sunny-faced babies there, and Ned lived in
a world of his own, where there was no place for her.
This household happiness did not come all at once, but
John and Meg had found the key to it, and each year of married
life taught them how to use it, unlocking the treasuries
of real home love and mutual helpfulness, which the poorest
may possess, and the richest cannot buy. This is the sort
of shelf on which young wives and mothers may consent to be
laid, safe from the restless fret and fever of the world,
finding loyal lovers in the little sons and daughters who
cling to them, undaunted by sorrow, poverty, or age, walking
side by side, through fair and stormy weather, with a faithful
friend, who is, in the true sense of the good old Saxon word,
the 'house-band', and learning, as Meg learned, that a woman's
happiest kingdom is home, her highest honor the art of ruling
it not as a queen, but as a wise wife and mother.
Laurie went to Nice intending to stay a week, and remained
a month. He was tired of wandering about alone, and Amy's
familiar presence seemed to give a homelike charm to the
foreign scenes in which she bore a part. He rather missed the
'petting' he used to receive, and enjoyed a taste of it again,
for no attentions, however flattering, from strangers, were half
so pleasant as the sisterly adoration of the girls at home. Amy
never would pet him like the others, but she was very glad to
see him now, and quite clung to him, feeling that he was the
representative of the dear family for whom she longed more
than she would confess. They naturally took comfort in each
other's society and were much together, riding, walking, dancing,
or dawdling, for at Nice no one can be very industrious during
the gay season. But, while apparently amusing themselves in
the most careless fashion, they were half-consciously making
discoveries and forming opinions about each other. Amy rose
daily in the estimation of her friend, but he sank in hers,
and each felt the truth before a word was spoken. Amy tried
to please, and succeeded, for she was grateful for the many
pleasures he gave her, and repaid him with the little services
to which womanly women know how to lend an indescribable
charm. Laurie made no effort of any kind, but just let
himself drift along as comfortably as possible, trying to
forget, and feeling that all women owed him a kind word because
one had been cold to him. It cost him no effort to be
generous, and he would have given Amy all the trinkets in
Nice if she would have taken them, but at the same time he
felt that he could not change the opinion she was forming of
him, and he rather dreaded the keen blue eyes that seemed to
watch him with such half-sorrowful, half-scornful surprise.
"All the rest have gone to Monaco for the day. I preferred
to stay at home and write letters. They are done now,
and I am going to Valrosa to sketch, will you come?" said Amy,
as she joined Laurie one lovely day when he lounged in as usual,
"Well, yes, but isn't it rather warm for such a long walk?"
he answered slowly, for the shaded salon looked inviting after
the glare without.
"I'm going to have the little carriage, and Baptiste can
drive, so you'll have nothing to do but hold your umbrella,
and keep your gloves nice," returned Amy, with a sarcastic
glance at the immaculate kids, which were a weak point with
"Then I'll go with pleasure." and he put out his hand for
her sketchbook. But she tucked it under her arm with a sharp . . .
"Don't trouble yourself. It's no exertion to me, but you
don't look equal to it."
Laurie lifted his eyebrows and followed at a leisurely pace
as she ran downstairs, but when they got into the carriage he took
the reins himself, and left little Baptiste nothing to do but fold
his arms and fall asleep on his perch.
The two never quarreled. Amy was too well-bred, and just now
Laurie was too lazy, so in a minute he peeped under her hatbrim
with an inquiring air. She answered him with a smile, and they
went on together in the most amicable manner.
It was a lovely drive, along winding roads rich in the picturesque
scenes that delight beauty-loving eyes. Here an ancient
monastery, whence the solemn chanting of the monks came down to
them. There a bare-legged shepherd, in wooden shoes, pointed hat,
and rough jacket over one shoulder, sat piping on a stone while
his goats skipped among the rocks or lay at his feet. Meek,
mouse-colored donkeys, laden with panniers of freshly cut grass
passed by, with a pretty girl in a capaline sitting between the
green piles, or an old woman spinning with a distaff as she went.
Brown, soft-eyed children ran out from the quaint stone hovels
to offer nosegays, or bunches of oranges still on the bough.
Gnarled olive trees covered the hills with their dusky foliage,
fruit hung golden in the orchard, and great scarlet anemones
fringed the roadside, while beyond green slopes and craggy heights,
the Maritime Alps rose sharp and white against the blue Italian sky.
Valrosa well deserved its name, for in that climate of perpetual
summer roses blossomed everywhere. They overhung the
archway, thrust themselves between the bars of the great gate
with a sweet welcome to passers-by, and lined the avenue, winding
through lemon trees and feathery palms up to the villa on the hill.
Every shadowy nook, where seats invited one to stop and rest, was
a mass of bloom, every cool grotto had its marble nymph smiling
from a veil of flowers and every fountain reflected crimson, white,
or pale pink roses, leaning down to smile at their own beauty.
Roses covered the walls of the house, draped the cornices, climbed
the pillars, and ran riot over the balustrade of the wide terrace,
whence one looked down on the sunny Mediterranean, and the white-walled
city on its shore.
"This is a regular honeymoon paradise, isn't it? Did you
ever see such roses?" asked Amy, pausing on the terrace to enjoy
the view, and a luxurious whiff of perfume that came wandering by.
"No, nor felt such thorns," returned Laurie, with his thumb
in his mouth, after a vain attempt to capture a solitary scarlet
flower that grew just beyond his reach.
"Try lower down, and pick those that have no thorns," said
Amy, gathering three of the tiny cream-colored ones that starred
the wall behind her. She put them in his buttonhole as a peace
offering, and he stood a minute looking down at them with a
curious expression, for in the Italian part of his nature there
was a touch of superstition, and he was just then in that state
of half-sweet, half-bitter melancholy, when imaginative young
men find significance in trifles and food for romance everywhere.
He had thought of Jo in reaching after the thorny red rose, for
vivid flowers became her, and she had often worn ones like that
from the greenhouse at home. The pale roses Amy gave him were
the sort that the Italians lay in dead hands, never in bridal
wreaths, and for a moment he wondered if the omen was for Jo or
for himself, but the next instant his American common sense got
the better of sentimentality, and he laughed a heartier laugh
than Amy had heard since he came.
"It's good advice, you'd better take it and save your fingers,"
she said, thinking her speech amused him.
"Thank you, I will," he answered in jest, and a few months
later he did it in earnest.
"Laurie, when are you going to your grandfather?" she asked
presently, as she settled herself on a rustic seat.
"You have said that a dozen times within the last three
"I dare say, short answers save trouble."
"He expects you, and you really ought to go."
"Hospitable creature! I know it."
"Then why don't you do it?"
"Natural depravity, I suppose."
"Natural indolence, you mean. It's really dreadful!"
and Amy looked severe.
"Not so bad as it seems, for I should only plague him if I went, so I
might as well stay and plague you a little longer, you can bear it
better, in fact I think it agrees with you excellently," and Laurie
composed himself for a lounge on the broad ledge of the balustrade.
Amy shook her head and opened her sketchbook with an
air of resignation, but she had made up her mind to lecture
'that boy' and in a minute she began again.
"What are you doing just now?"
"No, no. I mean what do you intend and wish to do?"
"Smoke a cigarette, if you'll allow me."
"How provoking you are! I don't approve of cigars and I will only allow
it on condition that you let me put you into my sketch. I need a
"With all the pleasure in life. How will you have me, full
length or three-quarters, on my head or my heels? I should
respectfully suggest a recumbent posture, then put yourself
in also and call it 'Dolce far niente'."
"Stay as you are, and go to sleep if you like. I intend to
work hard," said Amy in her most energetic tone.
"What delightful enthusiasm!" and he leaned against a tall
urn with an air of entire satisfaction.
"What would Jo say if she saw you now?" asked Amy impatiently,
hoping to stir him up by the mention of her still more
energetic sister's name.
"As usual, 'Go away, Teddy. I'm busy!'" He laughed as he
spoke, but the laugh was not natural, and a shade passed over
his face, for the utterance of the familiar name touched the
wound that was not healed yet. Both tone and shadow struck Amy,
for she had seen and heard them before, and now she looked up
in time to catch a new expression on Laurie's face--a hard bitter
look, full of pain, dissatisfaction, and regret. It was gone before
she could study it and the listless expression back again.
She watched him for a moment with artistic pleasure, thinking
how like an Italian he looked, as he lay basking in the sun
with uncovered head and eyes full of southern dreaminess, for
he seemed to have forgotten her and fallen into a reverie.
"You look like the effigy of a young knight asleep on his
tomb," she said, carefully tracing the well-cut profile defined
against the dark stone.
"Wish I was!"
"That's a foolish wish, unless you have spoiled your life.
You are so changed, I sometimes think--" there Amy stopped,
with a half-timid, half-wistful look, more significant than her
Laurie saw and understood the affectionate anxiety which
she hesitated to express, and looking straight into her eyes,
said, just as he used to say it to her mother, "It's all right, ma'am."
That satisfied her and set at rest the doubts that had begun
to worry her lately. It also touched her, and she showed
that it did, by the cordial tone in which she said . . .
"I'm glad of that! I didn't think you'd been a very bad
boy, but I fancied you might have wasted money at that wicked
Baden-Baden, lost your heart to some charming Frenchwoman
with a husband, or got into some of the scrapes that young men
seem to consider a necessary part of a foreign tour. Don't
stay out there in the sun, come and lie on the grass here and
'let us be friendly', as Jo used to say when we got in the sofa
corner and told secrets."
Laurie obediently threw himself down on the turf, and
began to amuse himself by sticking daisies into the ribbons of
Amy's hat, that lay there.
"I'm all ready for the secrets." and he glanced up with
a decided expression of interest in his eyes.
"I've none to tell. You may begin."
"Haven't one to bless myself with. I thought perhaps you'd
had some news from home.."
"You have heard all that has come lately. Don't you hear
often? I fancied Jo would send you volumes."
"She's very busy. I'm roving about so, it's impossible to
be regular, you know. When do you begin your great work of art,
Raphaella?" he asked, changing the subject abruptly after
another pause, in which he had been wondering if Amy knew his
secret and wanted to talk about it.
"Never," she answered, with a despondent but decided air.
"Rome took all the vanity out of me, for after seeing the
wonders there, I felt too insignificant to live and gave up
all my foolish hopes in despair."