who managed this new edition in less than one week from the date it was requested by one of our readers on the eBook list. This version 12 corrects some minor errata, and improves the layout.
by Louisa M. Alcott
Chapter 1 Ten Years Later
Chapter 2 Parnassus
Chapter 3 Jo’s Last Scrape
Chapter 4 Dan
Chapter 5 Vacation
Chapter 6 Last Words
Chapter 7 The Lion and the Lamb
Chapter 8 Josie Plays Mermaid
Chapter 9 The Worm Turns
Chapter 10 Demi Settles
Chapter 11 Emil’s Thanksgiving
Chapter 12 Dan’s Christmas
Chapter 13 Nat’s New Year
Chapter 14 Plays at Plumfield
Chapter 15 Waiting
Chapter 16 In the Tennis-court
Chapter 17 Among the Maids
Chapter 18 Class Day
Chapter 19 White Roses
Chapter 20 Life for Life
Chapter 21 Aslauga’s Knight
Chapter 22 Positively Last Appearance
TEN YEARS LATER
‘If anyone had told me what wonderful changes were to take place here in ten years, I wouldn’t have believed it,’ said Mrs Jo to Mrs Meg, as they sat on the piazza at Plumfield one summer day, looking about them with faces full of pride and pleasure.
‘This is the sort of magic that money and kind hearts can work. I am sure Mr Laurence could have no nobler monument than the college he so generously endowed; and a home like this will keep Aunt March’s memory green as long as it lasts,’ answered Mrs Meg, always glad to praise the absent.
‘We used to believe in fairies, you remember, and plan what we’d ask for if we could have three wishes. Doesn’t it seem as if mine had been really granted at last? Money, fame, and plenty of the work I love,’ said Mrs Jo, carelessly rumpling up her hair as she clasped her hands over her head just as she used to do when a girl.
‘I have had mine, and Amy is enjoying hers to her heart’s content. If dear Marmee, John, and Beth were here, it would be quite perfect,’ added Meg, with a tender quiver in her voice; for Marmee’s place was empty now.
Jo put her hand on her sister’s, and both sat silent for a little while, surveying the pleasant scene before them with mingled sad and happy thoughts.
It certainly did look as if magic had been at work, for quiet Plumfield was transformed into a busy little world. The house seemed more hospitable than ever, refreshed now with new paint, added wings, well-kept lawn and garden, and a prosperous air it had not worn when riotous boys swarmed everywhere and it was rather difficult for the Bhaers to make both ends meet. On the hill, where kites used to be flown, stood the fine college which Mr Laurence’s munificent legacy had built. Busy students were going to and fro along the paths once trodden by childish feet, and many young men and women were enjoying all the advantages that wealth, wisdom, and benevolence could give them.
Just inside the gates of Plumfield a pretty brown cottage, very like the Dovecote, nestled among the trees, and on the green slope westward Laurie’s white-pillared mansion glittered in the sunshine; for when the rapid growth of the city shut in the old house, spoilt Meg’s nest, and dared to put a soap-factory under Mr Laurence’s indignant nose, our friends emigrated to Plumfield, and the great changes began.
These were the pleasant ones; and the loss of the dear old people was sweetened by the blessings they left behind; so all prospered now in the little community, and Mr Bhaer as president, and Mr March as chaplain of the college, saw their long-cherished dream beautifully realized. The sisters divided the care of the young people among them, each taking the part that suited her best. Meg was the motherly friend of the young women, Jo the confidante and defender of all the youths, and Amy the lady Bountiful who delicately smoothed the way for needy students, and entertained them all so cordially that it was no wonder they named her lovely home Mount Parnassus, so full was it of music, beauty, and the culture hungry young hearts and fancies long for.
The original twelve boys had of course scattered far and wide during these years, but all that lived still remembered old Plumfield, and came wandering back from the four quarters of the earth to tell their various experiences, laugh over the pleasures of the past, and face the duties of the present with fresh courage; for such home-comings keep hearts tender and hands helpful with the memories of young and happy days. A few words will tell the history of each, and then we can go on with the new chapter of their lives.
Franz was with a merchant kinsman in Hamburg, a man of twenty-six now, and doing well. Emil was the jolliest tar that ever ‘sailed the ocean blue’. His uncle sent him on a long voyage to disgust him with this adventurous life; but he came home so delighted with it that it was plain this was his profession, and the German kinsman gave him a good chance in his ships; so the lad was happy. Dan was a wanderer still; for after the geological researches in South America he tried sheep-farming in Australia, and was now in California looking up mines. Nat was busy with music at the Conservatory, preparing for a year or two in Germany to finish him off. Tom was studying medicine and trying to like it. Jack was in business with his father, bent on getting rich. Dolly was in college with Stuffy and Ned reading law. Poor little Dick was dead, so was Billy; and no one could mourn for them, since life would never be happy, afflicted as they were in mind and body.
Rob and Teddy were called the ‘Lion and the Lamb’; for the latter was as rampant as the king of beasts, and the former as gentle as any sheep that ever baaed. Mrs Jo called him ‘my daughter’, and found him the most dutiful of children, with plenty of manliness underlying the quiet manners and tender nature. But in Ted she seemed to see all the faults, whims, aspirations, and fun of her own youth in a new shape. With his tawny locks always in wild confusion, his long legs and arms, loud voice, and continual activity, Ted was a prominent figure at Plumfield. He had his moods of gloom, and fell into the Slough of Despond about once a week, to be hoisted out by patient Rob or his mother, who understood when to let him alone and when to shake him up. He was her pride and joy as well as torment, being a very bright lad for his age, and so full of all sorts of budding talent, that her maternal mind was much exercised as to what this remarkable boy would become.
Demi had gone through College with honour, and Mrs Meg had set her heart on his being a minister–picturing in her fond fancy the first sermon her dignified young parson would preach, as well as the long, useful, and honoured life he was to lead. But John, as she called him now, firmly declined the divinity school, saying he had had enough of books, and needed to know more of men and the world, and caused the dear woman much disappointment by deciding to try a journalist’s career. It was a blow; but she knew that young minds cannot be driven, and that experience is the best teacher; so she let him follow his own inclinations, still hoping to see him in the pulpit. Aunt Jo raged when she found that there was to be a reporter in the family, and called him ‘Jenkins’ on the spot. She liked his literary tendencies, but had reason to detest official Paul Prys, as we shall see later. Demi knew his own mind, however, and tranquilly carried out his plans, unmoved by the tongues of the anxious mammas or the jokes of his mates. Uncle Teddy encouraged him, and painted a splendid career, mentioning Dickens and other celebrities who began as reporters and ended as famous novelists or newspaper men.
The girls were all flourishing. Daisy, as sweet and domestic as ever, was her mother’s comfort and companion. Josie at fourteen was a most original young person, full of pranks and peculiarities, the latest of which was a passion for the stage, which caused her quiet mother and sister much anxiety as well as amusement. Bess had grown into a tall, beautiful girl looking several years older than she was, with the same graceful ways and dainty tastes which the little Princess had, and a rich inheritance of both the father’s and mother’s gifts, fostered by every aid love and money could give. But the pride of the community was naughty Nan; for, like so many restless, wilful children, she was growing into a woman full of the energy and promise that suddenly blossoms when the ambitious seeker finds the work she is fitted to do well. Nan began to study medicine at sixteen, and at twenty was getting on bravely; for now, thanks to other intelligent women, colleges and hospitals were open to her. She had never wavered in her purpose from the childish days when she shocked Daisy in the old willow by saying: ‘I don’t want any family to fuss over. I shall have an office, with bottles and pestle things in it, and drive round and cure folks.’ The future foretold by the little girl the young woman was rapidly bringing to pass, and finding so much happiness in it that nothing could win her from the chosen work. Several worthy young gentlemen had tried to make her change her mind and choose, as Daisy did, ‘a nice little house and family to take care of’. But Nan only laughed, and routed the lovers by proposing to look at the tongue which spoke of adoration, or professionally felt the pulse in the manly hand offered for her acceptance. So all departed but one persistent youth, who was such a devoted Traddles it was impossible to quench him.
This was Tom, who was as faithful to his child sweetheart as she to her ‘pestle things’, and gave a proof of fidelity that touched her very much. He studied medicine for her sake alone, having no taste for it, and a decided fancy for a mercantile life. But Nan was firm, and Tom stoutly kept on, devoutly hoping he might not kill many of his fellow-beings when he came to practise. They were excellent friends, however, and caused much amusement to their comrades, by the vicissitudes of this merry love-chase.
Both were approaching Plumfield on the afternoon when Mrs Meg and Mrs Jo were talking on the piazza. Not together; for Nan was walking briskly along the pleasant road alone, thinking over a case that interested her, and Tom was pegging on behind to overtake her, as if by accident, when the suburbs of the city were past–a little way of his, which was part of the joke.
Nan was a handsome girl, with a fresh colour, clear eye, quick smile, and the self-poised look young women with a purpose always have. She was simply and sensibly dressed, walked easily, and seemed full of vigour, with her broad shoulders well back, arms swinging freely, and the elasticity of youth and health in every motion. The few people she met turned to look at her, as if it was a pleasant sight to see a hearty, happy girl walking countryward that lovely day; and the red-faced young man steaming along behind, hat off and every tight curl wagging with impatience, evidently agreed with them.
Presently a mild ‘Hallo!’ was borne upon the breeze, and pausing, with an effort to look surprised that was an utter failure, Nan said affably:
‘Oh, is that you, Tom?’
‘Looks like it. Thought you might be walking out today’; and Tom’s jovial face beamed with pleasure.
‘You knew it. How is your throat?’ asked Nan in her professional tone, which was always a quencher to undue raptures.
‘Throat? Oh, ah! yes, I remember. It is well. The effect of that prescription was wonderful. I’ll never call homoeopathy a humbug again.’
‘You were the humbug this time, and so were the unmedicated pellets I gave you. If sugar or milk can cure diphtheria in this remarkable manner, I’ll make a note of it. O Tom, Tom, will you never be done playing tricks?’
‘O Nan, Nan, will you never be done getting the better of me?’ And the merry pair laughed at one another just as they did in the old times, which always came back freshly when they went to Plumfield.
‘Well, I knew I shouldn’t see you for a week if I didn’t scare up some excuse for a call at the office. You are so desperately busy all the time I never get a word,’ explained Tom.
‘You ought to be busy too, and above such nonsense. Really, Tom, if you don’t give your mind to your lectures, you’ll never get on,’ said Nan soberly.
‘I have quite enough of them as it is,’ answered Tom with an air of disgust. ‘A fellow must lark a bit after dissecting corpuses all day. I can’t stand it long at a time, though some people seem to enjoy it immensely.’
‘Then why not leave it, and do what suits you better? I always thought it a foolish thing, you know,’ said Nan, with a trace of anxiety in the keen eyes that searched for signs of illness in a face as ruddy as a Baldwin apple.
‘You know why I chose it, and why I shall stick to it if it kills me. I may not look delicate, but I’ve a deep-seated heart complaint, and it will carry me off sooner or later; for only one doctor in the world can cure it, and she won’t.’
There was an air of pensive resignation about Tom that was both comic and pathetic; for he was in earnest, and kept on giving hints of this sort, without the least encouragement.
Nan frowned; but she was used to it, and knew how to treat him.
‘She is curing it in the best and only way; but a more refractory patient never lived. Did you go to that ball, as I directed?’
‘And devote yourself to pretty Miss West?’
‘Danced with her the whole evening.’
‘No impression made on that susceptible organ of yours?’
‘Not the slightest. I gaped in her face once, forgot to feed her, and gave a sigh of relief when I handed her over to her mamma.’
‘Repeat the dose as often as possible, and note the symptoms. I predict that you’ll “cry for it” by and by.’
‘Never! I’m sure it doesn’t suit my constitution.’
‘We shall see. Obey orders!’ sternly.
‘Yes, Doctor,’ meekly.
Silence reigned for a moment; then, as if the bone of contention was forgotten in the pleasant recollections called up by familiar objects, Nan said suddenly:
‘What fun we used to have in that wood! Do you remember how you tumbled out of the big nut-tree and nearly broke your collar-bones?’
‘Don’t I! and how you steeped me in wormwood till I was a fine mahogany colour, and Aunt Jo wailed over my spoilt jacket,’ laughed Tom, a boy again in a minute.
‘And how you set the house afire?’
‘And you ran off for your band-box?’
‘Do you ever say “Thunder-turtles” now?’
‘Do people ever call you “Giddy-gaddy”?’
‘Daisy does. Dear thing, I haven’t seen her for a week.’
‘I saw Demi this morning, and he said she was keeping house for Mother Bhaer.’
‘She always does when Aunt Jo gets into a vortex. Daisy is a model housekeeper; and you couldn’t do better than make your bow to her, if you can’t go to work and wait till you are grown up before you begin lovering.’
‘Nat would break his fiddle over my head if I suggested such a thing. No, thank you. Another name is engraved upon my heart as indelibly as the blue anchor on my arm. “Hope” is my motto, and “No surrender”, yours; see who will hold out longest.’
‘You silly boys think we must pair off as we did when children; but we shall do nothing of the kind. How well Parnassus looks from here!’ said Nan, abruptly changing the conversation again.
‘It is a fine house; but I love old Plum best. Wouldn’t Aunt March stare if she could see the changes here?’ answered Tom, as they both paused at the great gate to look at the pleasant landscape before them.
A sudden whoop startled them, as a long boy with a wild yellow head came leaping over a hedge like a kangaroo, followed by a slender girl, who stuck in the hawthorn, and sat there laughing like a witch. A pretty little lass she was, with curly dark hair, bright eyes, and a very expressive face. Her hat was at her back, and her skirts a good deal the worse for the brooks she had crossed, the trees she had climbed, and the last leap, which added several fine rents.
‘Take me down, Nan, please. Tom, hold Ted; he’s got my book, and I will have it,’ called Josie from her perch, not at all daunted by the appearance of her friends.
Tom promptly collared the thief, while Nan picked Josie from among the thorns and set her on her feet without a word of reproof; for having been a romp in her own girlhood, she was very indulgent to like tastes in others. ‘What’s the matter, dear?’ she asked, pinning up the longest rip, while Josie examined the scratches on her hands. ‘I was studying my part in the willow, and Ted came slyly up and poked the book out of my hands with his rod. It fell in the brook, and before I could scrabble down he was off. You wretch, give it back this moment or I’ll box your ears,’ cried Josie, laughing and scolding in the same breath.
Escaping from Tom, Ted struck a sentimental attitude, and with tender glances at the wet, torn young person before him, delivered Claude Melnotte’s famous speech in a lackadaisical way that was irresistibly funny, ending with ‘Dost like the picture, love?’ as he made an object of himself by tying his long legs in a knot and distorting his face horribly.
The sound of applause from the piazza put a stop to these antics, and the young folks went up the avenue together very much in the old style when Tom drove four in hand and Nan was the best horse in the team. Rosy, breathless, and merry, they greeted the ladies and sat down on the steps to rest, Aunt Meg sewing up her daughter’s rags while Mrs Jo smoothed the Lion’s mane, and rescued the book. Daisy appeared in a moment to greet her friend, and all began to talk.
‘Muffins for tea; better stay and eat ’em; Daisy’s never fail,’ said Ted hospitably.
‘He’s a judge; he ate nine last time. That’s why he’s so fat,’ added Josie, with a withering glance at her cousin, who was as thin as a lath.
‘I must go and see Lucy Dove. She has a whitlow, and it’s time to lance it. I’ll tea at college,’ answered Nan, feeling in her pocket to be sure she had not forgotten her case of instruments.
‘Thanks, I’m going there also. Tom Merryweather has granulated lids, and I promised to touch them up for him. Save a doctor’s fee and be good practice for me. I’m clumsy with my thumbs,’ said Tom, bound to be near his idol while he could.
‘Hush! Daisy doesn’t like to hear you saw-bones talk of your work. Muffins suit us better’; and Ted grinned sweetly, with a view to future favours in the eating line.
‘Any news of the Commodore?’ asked Tom.
‘He is on his way home, and Dan hopes to come soon. I long to see my boys together, and have begged the wanderers to come to Thanksgiving, if not before,’ answered Mrs Jo, beaming at the thought.
‘They’ll come, every man of them, if they can. Even Jack will risk losing a dollar for the sake of one of our jolly old dinners,’ laughed Tom.
‘There’s the turkey fattening for the feast. I never chase him now, but feed him well; and he’s “swellin’ wisibly”, bless his drumsticks!’ said Ted, pointing out the doomed fowl proudly parading in a neighbouring field.
‘If Nat goes the last of the month we shall want a farewell frolic for him. I suppose the dear old Chirper will come home a second Ole Bull,’ said Nan to her friend.
A pretty colour came into Daisy’s cheek, and the folds of muslin on her breast rose and fell with a quick breath; but she answered placidly: ‘Uncle Laurie says he has real talent, and after the training he will get abroad he can command a good living here, though he may never be famous.’
‘Young people seldom turn out as one predicts, so it is of little use to expect anything,’ said Mrs Meg with a sigh. ‘If our children are good and useful men and women, we should be satisfied; yet it’s very natural to wish them to be brilliant and successful.’
‘They are like my chickens, mighty uncertain. Now, that fine-looking cockerel of mine is the stupidest one of the lot, and the ugly, long-legged chap is the king of the yard, he’s so smart; crows loud enough to wake the Seven Sleepers; but the handsome one croaks, and is no end of a coward. I get snubbed; but you wait till I grow up, and then see’; and Ted looked so like his own long-legged pet that everyone laughed at his modest prediction.
‘I want to see Dan settled somewhere. “A rolling stone gathers no moss”, and at twenty-five he is still roaming about the world without a tie to hold him, except this’; and Mrs Meg nodded towards her sister.
‘Dan will find his place at last, and experience is his best teacher. He is rough still, but each time he comes home I see a change for the better, and never lose my faith in him. He may never do anything great, or get rich; but if the wild boy makes an honest man, I’m satisfied,’ said Mrs Jo, who always defended the black sheep of her flock.
‘That’s right, mother, stand by Dan! He’s worth a dozen Jacks and Neds bragging about money and trying to be swells. You see if he doesn’t do something to be proud of and take the wind out of their sails,’ added Ted, whose love for his ‘Danny’ was now strengthened by a boy’s admiration for the bold, adventurous man.
‘Hope so, I’m sure. He’s just the fellow to do rash things and come to glory–climbing the Matterhorn, taking a “header” into Niagara, or finding a big nugget. That’s his way of sowing wild oats, and perhaps it’s better than ours,’ said Tom thoughtfully; for he had gained a good deal of experience in that sort of agriculture since he became a medical student.
‘Much better!’ said Mrs Jo emphatically. ‘I’d rather send my boys off to see the world in that way than leave them alone in a city full of temptations, with nothing to do but waste time, money, and health, as so many are left. Dan has to work his way, and that teaches him courage, patience, and self-reliance. I don’t worry about him as much as I do about George and Dolly at college, no more fit than two babies to take care of themselves.’
‘How about John? He’s knocking round town as a newspaper man, reporting all sorts of things, from sermons to prize-fights,’ asked Tom, who thought that sort of life would be much more to his own taste than medical lectures and hospital wards.
‘Demi has three safeguards–good principles, refined tastes, and a wise mother. He won’t come to harm, and these experiences will be useful to him when he begins to write, as I’m sure he will in time,’ began Mrs Jo in her prophetic tone; for she was anxious to have some of her geese turn out swans.
‘Speak of Jenkins, and you’ll hear the rustling of his paper,’ cried Tom, as a fresh-faced, brown-eyed young man came up the avenue, waving a newspaper over his head.
‘Here’s your Evening Tattler! Latest Edition! Awful murder! Bank clerk absconded! Powder-mill explosion, and great strike of the Latin School boys!’ roared Ted, going to meet his cousin with the graceful gait of a young giraffe.
‘The Commodore is in, and will cut his cable and run before the wind as soon as he can get off,’ called Demi, with ‘a nice derangement of nautical epitaphs’, as he came up smiling over his good news.
Everyone talked together for a moment, and the paper passed from hand to hand that each eye might rest on the pleasant fact that the Brenda, from Hamburg, was safe in port.
‘He’ll come lurching out by tomorrow with his usual collection of marine monsters and lively yarns. I saw him, jolly and tarry and brown as a coffee-berry. Had a good run, and hopes to be second mate, as the other chap is laid up with a broken leg,’ added Demi.
‘Wish I had the setting of it,’ said Nan to herself, with a professional twist of her hand.
‘How’s Franz?’ asked Mrs Jo.
‘He’s going to be married! There’s news for you. The first of the flock, Aunty, so say good-bye to him. Her name is Ludmilla Heldegard Blumenthal; good family, well-off, pretty, and of course an angel. The dear old boy wants Uncle’s consent, and then he will settle down to be a happy and an honest burgher. Long life to him!’
‘I’m glad to hear it. I do so like to settle my boys with a good wife and a nice little home. Now, if all is right, I shall feel as if Franz was off my mind,’ said Mrs Jo, folding her hands contentedly; for she often felt like a distracted hen with a large brood of mixed chickens and ducks upon her hands.
‘So do I,’ sighed Tom, with a sly glance at Nan. ‘That’s what a fellow needs to keep him steady; and it’s the duty of nice girls to marry as soon as possible, isn’t it, Demi?’
‘If there are enough nice fellows to go round. The female population exceeds the male, you know, especially in New England; which accounts for the high state of culture we are in, perhaps,’ answered John, who was leaning over his mother’s chair, telling his day’s experiences in a whisper.
‘It is a merciful provision, my dears; for it takes three or four women to get each man into, through, and out of the world. You are costly creatures, boys; and it is well that mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters love their duty and do it so well, or you would perish off the face of the earth,’ said Mrs Jo solemnly, as she took up a basket filled with dilapidated hose; for the good Professor was still hard on his socks, and his sons resembled him in that respect.
‘Such being the case, there is plenty for the “superfluous women” to do, in taking care of these helpless men and their families. I see that more clearly every day, and am very glad and grateful that my profession will make me a useful, happy, and independent spinster.’
Nan’s emphasis on the last word caused Tom to groan, and the rest to laugh.
‘I take great pride and solid satisfaction in you, Nan, and hope to see you very successful; for we do need just such helpful women in the world. I sometimes feel as if I’ve missed my vocation and ought to have remained single; but my duty seemed to point this way, and I don’t regret it,’ said Mrs Jo, folding a large and very ragged blue sock to her bosom.
‘Neither do I. What should I ever have done without my dearest Mum?’ added Ted, with a filial hug which caused both to disappear behind the newspaper in which he had been mercifully absorbed for a few minutes.
‘My darling boy, if you would wash your hands semi-occasionally, fond caresses would be less disastrous to my collar. Never mind, my precious touslehead, better grass stains and dirt than no cuddlings at all’; and Mrs Jo emerged from that brief eclipse looking much refreshed, though her back hair was caught in Ted’s buttons and her collar under one ear.
Here Josie, who had been studying her part at the other end of the piazza, suddenly burst forth with a smothered shriek, and gave Juliet’s speech in the tomb so effectively that the boys applauded, Daisy shivered, and Nan murmured: ‘Too much cerebral excitement for one of her age.’
‘I’m afraid you’ll have to make up your mind to it, Meg. That child is a born actress. We never did anything so well, not even the Witch’s Curse,’ said Mrs Jo, casting a bouquet of many-coloured socks at the feet of her flushed and panting niece, when she fell gracefully upon the door-mat.
‘It is a sort of judgement upon me for my passion for the stage when a girl. Now I know how dear Marmee felt when I begged to be an actress. I never can consent, and yet I may be obliged to give up my wishes, hopes, and plans again.’
There was an accent of reproach in his mother’s voice, which made Demi pick up his sister with a gentle shake, and the stern command to ‘drop that nonsense in public’.
‘Drop me, Minion, or I’ll give you the Maniac Bride, with my best Ha-ha!’ cried Josie, glaring at him like an offended kitten. Being set on her feet, she made a splendid courtesy, and dramatically proclaiming, ‘Mrs Woffington’s carriage waits,’ swept down the steps and round the corner, trailing Daisy’s scarlet shawl majestically behind her.
‘Isn’t she great fun? I couldn’t stop in this dull place if I hadn’t that child to make it lively for me. If ever she turns prim, I’m off; so mind how you nip her in the bud,’ said Teddy, frowning at Demi, who was now writing out shorthand notes on the steps.
‘You two are a team, and it takes a strong hand to drive you, but I rather like it. Josie ought to have been my child, and Rob yours, Meg. Then your house would have been all peace and mine all Bedlam. Now I must go and tell Laurie the news. Come with me, Meg, a little stroll will do us good’; and sticking Ted’s straw hat on her head, Mrs Jo walked off with her sister, leaving Daisy to attend to the muffins, Ted to appease Josie, and Tom and Nan to give their respective patients a very bad quarter of an hour.
It was well named; and the Muses seemed to be at home that day, for as the newcomers went up the slope appropriate sights and sounds greeted them. Passing an open window, they looked in upon a library presided over by Clio, Calliope, and Urania; Melpomene and Thalia were disporting themselves in the hall, where some young people were dancing and rehearsing a play; Erato was walking in the garden with her lover, and in the music-room Phoebus himself was drilling a tuneful choir.
A mature Apollo was our old friend Laurie, but comely and genial as ever; for time had ripened the freakish boy into a noble man. Care and sorrow, as well as ease and happiness, had done much for him; and the responsibility of carrying out his grandfather’s wishes had been a duty most faithfully performed. Prosperity suits some people, and they blossom best in a glow of sunshine; others need the shade, and are the sweeter for a touch of frost. Laurie was one of the former sort, and Amy was another; so life had been a kind of poem to them since they married–not only harmonious and happy, but earnest, useful, and rich in the beautiful benevolence which can do so much when wealth and wisdom go hand in hand with charity. Their house was full of unostentatious beauty and comfort, and here the art-loving host and hostess attracted and entertained artists of all kinds. Laurie had music enough now, and was a generous patron to the class he most liked to help. Amy had her proteges among ambitious young painters and sculptors, and found her own art double dear as her daughter grew old enough to share its labours and delights with her; for she was one of those who prove that women can be faithful wives and mothers without sacrificing the special gift bestowed upon them for their own development and the good of others.
Her sisters knew where to find her, and Jo went at once to the studio, where mother and daughter worked together. Bess was busy with the bust of a little child, while her mother added the last touches to a fine head of her husband. Time seemed to have stood still with Amy, for happiness had kept her young and prosperity given her the culture she needed. A stately, graceful woman, who showed how elegant simplicity could be made by the taste with which she chose her dress and the grace with which she wore it. As someone said: ‘I never know what Mrs Laurence has on, but I always receive the impression that she is the best-dressed lady in the room.’
It was evident that she adored her daughter, and well she might; for the beauty she had longed for seemed, to her fond eyes at least, to be impersonated in this younger self. Bess inherited her mother’s Diana-like figure, blue eyes, fair skin, and golden hair, tied up in the same classic knot of curls. Also–ah! never-ending source of joy to Amy–she had her father’s handsome nose and mouth, cast in a feminine mould. The severe simplicity of a long linen pinafore suited her; and she worked away with the entire absorption of the true artist, unconscious of the loving eyes upon her, till Aunt Jo came in exclaiming eagerly:
‘My dear girls, stop your mud-pies and hear the news!’
Both artists dropped their tools and greeted the irrepressible woman cordially, though genius had been burning splendidly and her coming spoilt a precious hour. They were in the full tide of gossip when Laurie, who had been summoned by Meg, arrived, and sitting down between the sisters, with no barricade anywhere, listened with interest to the news of Franz and Emil.
‘The epidemic has broke out, and now it will rage and ravage your flock. Be prepared for every sort of romance and rashness for the next ten years, Jo. Your boys are growing up and will plunge headlong into a sea of worse scrapes than any you have had yet,’ said Laurie, enjoying her look of mingled delight and despair.
‘I know it, and I hope I shall be able to pull them through and land them safely; but it’s an awful responsibility, for they will come to me and insist that I can make their poor little loves run smoothly. I like it, though, and Meg is such a mush of sentiment she revels in the prospect,’ answered Jo, feeling pretty easy about her own boys, whose youth made them safe for the present.
‘I’m afraid she won’t revel when our Nat begins to buzz too near her Daisy. Of course you see what all that means? As musical director I am also his confidante, and would like to know what advice to give,’ said Laurie soberly. ‘Hush! you forget that child,’ began Jo, nodding towards Bess, who was at work again.
‘Bless you! she’s in Athens, and doesn’t hear a word. She ought to leave off, though, and go out. My darling, put the baby to sleep, and go for a run. Aunt Meg is in the parlour; go and show her the new pictures till we come,’ added Laurie, looking at his tall girl as Pygmalion might have looked at Galatea; for he considered her the finest statue in the house.
‘Yes, papa; but please tell me if it is good’; and Bess obediently put down her tools, with a lingering glance at the bust.
‘My cherished daughter, truth compels me to confess that one cheek is plumper than the other; and the curls upon its infant brow are rather too much like horns for perfect grace; otherwise it rivals Raphael’s Chanting Cherubs, and I’m proud of it.’
Laurie was laughing as he spoke; for these first attempts were so like Amy’s early ones, it was impossible to regard them as soberly as the enthusiastic mamma did.
‘You can’t see beauty in anything but music,’ answered Bess, shaking the golden head that made the one bright spot in the cool north lights of the great studio.
‘Well, I see beauty in you, dear. And if you are not art, what is? I wish to put a little more nature into you, and get you away from this cold clay and marble into the sunshine, to dance and laugh as the others do. I want a flesh-and-blood girl, not a sweet statue in a grey pinafore, who forgets everything but her work.’ As he spoke, two dusty hands came round his neck, and Bess said earnestly, punctuating her words with soft touches of her lips:
‘I never forget you, papa; but I do want to do something beautiful that you may be proud of me by and by. Mamma often tells me to stop; but when we get in here we forget there is any world outside, we are so busy and so happy. Now I’ll go and run and sing, and be a girl to please you.’ And throwing away the apron, Bess vanished from the room, seeming to take all the light with her.
‘I’m glad you said that. The dear child is too much absorbed in her artistic dreams for one so young. It is my fault; but I sympathize so deeply in it all, I forget to be wise,’ sighed Amy, carefully covering the baby with a wet towel.
‘I think this power of living in our children is one of the sweetest things in the world; but I try to remember what Marmee once said to Meg–that fathers should have their share in the education of both girls and boys; so I leave Ted to his father all I can, and Fritz lends me Rob, whose quiet ways are as restful and good for me as Ted’s tempests are for his father. Now I advise you, Amy, to let Bess drop the mud-pies for a time, and take up music with Laurie; then she won’t be one-sided, and he won’t be jealous.’
‘Hear, hear! A Daniel–a very Daniel!’ cried Laurie, well pleased. ‘I thought you’d lend a hand, Jo, and say a word for me. I am a little jealous of Amy, and want more of a share in my girl. Come, my lady, let me have her this summer, and next year, when we go to Rome, I’ll give her up to you and high art. Isn’t that a fair bargain?’
‘I agree; but in trying your hobby, nature, with music thrown in, don’t forget that, though only fifteen, our Bess is older than most girls of that age, and cannot be treated like a child. She is so very precious to me, I feel as if I wanted to keep her always as pure and beautiful as the marble she loves so well.’
Amy spoke regretfully as she looked about the lovely room where she had spent so many happy hours with this dear child of hers.
‘”Turn and turn about is fair play”, as we used to say when we all wanted to ride on Ellen Tree or wear the russet boots,’ said Jo briskly; ‘so you must share your girl between you, and see who will do the most for her.’
‘We will,’ answered the fond parents, laughing at the recollections Jo’s proverb brought up to them.
‘How I did use to enjoy bouncing on the limbs of that old apple-tree! No real horse ever gave me half the pleasure or the exercise,’ said Amy, looking out of the high window as if she saw the dear old orchard again and the little girls at play there.
‘And what fun I had with those blessed boots!’ laughed Jo. ‘I’ve got the relics now. The boys reduced them to rags; but I love them still, and would enjoy a good theatrical stalk in them if it were possible.’
‘My fondest memories twine about the warming-pan and the sausage. What larks we had! And how long ago it seems!’ said Laurie, staring at the two women before him as if he found it hard to realize that they ever had been little Amy and riotous Jo.
‘Don’t suggest that we are growing old, my Lord. We have only bloomed; and a very nice bouquet we make with our buds about us,’ answered Mrs Amy, shaking out the folds of her rosy muslin with much the air of dainty satisfaction the girl used to show in a new dress.
‘Not to mention our thorns and dead leaves,’ added Jo, with a sigh; for life had never been very easy to her, and even now she had her troubles both within and without.
‘Come and have a dish of tea, old dear, and see what the young folks are about. You are tired, and want to be “stayed with flagons and comforted with apples”,’ said Laurie, offering an arm to each sister, and leading them away to afternoon tea, which flowed as freely on Parnassus as the nectar of old.
They found Meg in the summer-parlour, an airy and delightful room, full now of afternoon sunshine and the rustle of trees; for the three long windows opened on the garden. The great music-room was at one end, and at the other, in a deep alcove hung with purple curtains, a little household shrine had been made. Three portraits hung there, two marble busts stood in the corners, and a couch, an oval table, with its urn of flowers, were the only articles of furniture the nook contained. The busts were John Brooke and Beth–Amy’s work–both excellent likenesses, and both full of the placid beauty which always recalls the saying, that ‘Clay represents life; plaster, death; marble, immortality’. On the right, as became the founder of the house, hung the portrait of Mr Laurence, with its expression of mingled pride and benevolence, as fresh and attractive as when he caught the girl Jo admiring it. Opposite was Aunt March–a legacy to Amy–in an imposing turban, immense sleeves, and long mittens decorously crossed on the front of her plum-coloured satin gown. Time had mellowed the severity of her aspect; and the fixed regard of the handsome old gentleman opposite seemed to account for the amiable simper on lips that had not uttered a sharp word for years.
In the place of honour, with the sunshine warm upon it, and a green garland always round it, was Marmee’s beloved face, painted with grateful skill by a great artist whom she had befriended when poor and unknown. So beautifully lifelike was it that it seemed to smile down upon her daughters, saying cheerfully:
‘Be happy; I am with you still.’
The three sisters stood a moment looking up at the beloved picture with eyes full of tender reverence and the longing that never left them; for this noble mother had been so much to them that no one could ever fill her place. Only two years since she had gone away to live and love anew, leaving such a sweet memory behind her that it was both an inspiration and a comforter to all the household. They felt this as they drew closer to one another, and Laurie put it into words as he said earnestly:
‘I can ask nothing better for my child than that she may be a woman like our mother. Please God, she shall be, if I can do it; for I owe the best I have to this dear saint.’
Just then a fresh voice began to sing ‘Ave Maria’ in the music-room, and Bess unconsciously echoed her father’s prayer for her as she dutifully obeyed his wishes. The soft sound of the air Marmee used to sing led the listeners back into the world again from that momentary reaching after the loved and lost, and they sat down together near the open windows enjoying the music, while Laurie brought them tea, making the little service pleasant by the tender care he gave to it.
Nat came in with Demi, soon followed by Ted and Josie, the Professor and his faithful Rob, all anxious to hear more about ‘the boys’. The rattle of cups and tongues grew brisk, and the setting sun saw a cheerful company resting in the bright room after the varied labours of the day.
Professor Bhaer was grey now, but robust and genial as ever; for he had the work he loved, and did it so heartily that the whole college felt his beautiful influence. Rob was as much like him as it was possible for a boy to be, and was already called the ‘young Professor’, he so adored study and closely imitated his honoured father in all ways.
‘Well, heart’s dearest, we go to have our boys again, all two, and may rejoice greatly,’ said Mr Bhaer, seating himself beside Jo with a beaming face and a handshake of congratulation.
‘Oh, Fritz, I’m so delighted about Emil, and if you approve about Franz also. Did you know Ludmilla? Is it a wise match?’ asked Mrs Jo, handing him her cup of tea and drawing closer, as if she welcomed her refuge in joy as well as sorrow.
‘It all goes well. I saw the Madchen when I went over to place Franz. A child then, but most sweet and charming. Blumenthal is satisfied, I think, and the boy will be happy. He is too German to be content away from Vaterland, so we shall have him as a link between the new and the old, and that pleases me much.’
‘And Emil, he is to be second mate next voyage; isn’t that fine? I’m so happy that both your boys have done well; you gave up so much for them and their mother. You make light of it, dear, but I never forget it,’ said Jo, with her hand in his as sentimentally as if she was a girl again and her Fritz had come a-wooing.
He laughed his cheery laugh, and whispered behind her fan: ‘If I had not come to America for the poor lads, I never should have found my Jo. The hard times are very sweet now, and I bless Gott for all I seemed to lose, because I gained the blessing of my life.’
‘Spooning! spooning! Here’s an awful flirtation on the sly,’ cried Teddy, peering over the fan just at that interesting moment, much to his mother’s confusion and his father’s amusement; for the Professor never was ashamed of the fact that he still considered his wife the dearest woman in the world. Rob promptly ejected his brother from one window, to see him skip in at the other, while Mrs Jo shut her fan and held it ready to rap her unruly boy’s knuckles if he came near her again.
Nat approached in answer to Mr Bhaer’s beckoning teaspoon, and stood before them with a face full of the respectful affection he felt for the excellent man who had done so much for him.
‘I have the letters ready for thee, my son. They are two old friends of mine in Leipzig, who will befriend thee in that new life. It is well to have them, for thou wilt be heartbroken with Heimweh at the first, Nat, and need comforting,’ said the Professor, giving him several letters.
‘Thanks, sir. Yes, I expect to be pretty lonely till I get started, then my music and the hope of getting on will cheer me up,’ answered Nat, who both longed and dreaded to leave all these friends behind him and make new ones.
He was a man now; but the blue eyes were as honest as ever, the mouth still a little weak, in spite of the carefully cherished moustache over it, and the broad forehead more plainly than ever betrayed the music-loving nature of the youth. Modest, affectionate, and dutiful, Nat was considered a pleasant though not a brilliant success by Mrs Jo. She loved and trusted him, and was sure he would do his best, but did not expect that he would be great in any way, unless the stimulus of foreign training and self-dependence made him a better artist and a stronger man than now seemed likely.
‘I’ve marked all your things–or rather, Daisy did–and as soon as your books are collected, we can see about the packing,’ said Mrs Jo, who was so used to fitting boys off for all quarters of the globe that a trip to the North Pole would not have been too much for her.
Nat grew red at mention of that name–or was it the last glow of sunset on his rather pale cheek?–and his heart beat happily at the thought of the dear girl working Ns and Bs on his humble socks and handkerchiefs; for Nat adored Daisy, and the cherished dream of his life was to earn a place for himself as a musician and win this angel for his wife. This hope did more for him than the Professor’s counsels, Mrs Jo’s care, or Mr Laurie’s generous help. For her sake he worked, waited, and hoped, finding courage and patience in the dream of that happy future when Daisy should make a little home for him and he fiddle a fortune into her lap. Mrs Jo knew this; and though he was not exactly the man she would have chosen for her niece, she felt that Nat would always need just the wise and loving care Daisy could give him, and that without it there was danger of his being one of the amiable and aimless men who fail for want of the right pilot to steer them safely through the world. Mrs Meg decidedly frowned upon the poor boy’s love, and would not hear of giving her dear girl to any but the best man to be found on the face of the earth. She was very kind, but as firm as such gentle souls can be; and Nat fled for comfort to Mrs Jo, who always espoused the interests of her boys heartily. A new set of anxieties was beginning now that the aforesaid boys were growing up, and she foresaw no end of worry as well as amusement in the love-affairs already budding in her flock. Mrs Meg was usually her best ally and adviser, for she loved romances as well now as when a blooming girl herself. But in this case she hardened her heart, and would not hear a word of entreaty. ‘Nat was not man enough, never would be, no one knew his family, a musician’s life was a hard one; Daisy was too young, five or six years hence when time had proved both perhaps. Let us see what absence will do for him.’ And that was the end of it, for when the maternal Pelican was roused she could be very firm, though for her precious children she would have plucked her last feather and given the last drop of her blood.
Mrs Jo was thinking of this as she looked at Nat while he talked with her husband about Leipzig, and she resolved to have a clear understanding with him before he went; for she was used to confidences, and talked freely with her boys about the trials and temptations that beset all lives in the beginning, and so often mar them, for want of the right word at the right moment.
This is the first duty of parents, and no false delicacy should keep them from the watchful care, the gentle warning, which makes self-knowledge and self-control the compass and pilot of the young as they leave the safe harbour of home.
‘Plato and his disciples approach,’ announced irreverent Teddy, as Mr March came in with several young men and women about him; for the wise old man was universally beloved, and ministered so beautifully to his flock that many of them thanked him all their lives for the help given to both hearts and souls.
Bess went to him at once; for since Marmee died, Grandpapa was her special care, and it was sweet to see the golden head bend over the silver one as she rolled out his easy-chair and waited on him with tender alacrity.
‘Aesthetic tea always on tap here, sir; will you have a flowing bowl or a bit of ambrosia?’ asked Laurie, who was wandering about with a sugar-basin in one hand and a plate of cake in the other; for sweetening cups and feeding the hungry was work he loved.
‘Neither, thanks; this child has taken care of me’; and Mr March turned to Bess, who sat on one arm of his chair, holding a glass of fresh milk.
‘Long may she live to do it, sir, and I be here to see this pretty contradiction of the song that “youth and age cannot live together”!’ answered Laurie, smiling at the pair. ‘”Crabbed age”, papa; that makes all the difference in the world,’ said Bess quickly; for she loved poetry, and read the best.
‘Wouldst thou see fresh roses grow
In a reverend bed of snow?’
quoted Mr March, as Josie came and perched on the other arm, looking like a very thorny little rose; for she had been having a hot discussion with Ted, and had got the worst of it.
‘Grandpa, must women always obey men and say they are the wisest, just because they are the strongest?’ she cried, looking fiercely at her cousin, who came stalking up with a provoking smile on the boyish face that was always very comical atop of that tall figure.
‘Well, my dear, that is the old-fashioned belief, and it will take some time to change it. But I think the woman’s hour has struck; and it looks to me as if the boys must do their best, for the girls are abreast now, and may reach the goal first,’ answered Mr March, surveying with paternal satisfaction the bright faces of the young women, who were among the best students in the college.
‘The poor little Atalantas are sadly distracted and delayed by the obstacles thrown in their way–not golden apples, by any means — but I think they will stand a fair chance when they have learned to run better,’ laughed Uncle Laurie, stroking Josie’s breezy hair, which stood up like the fur of an angry kitten.
‘Whole barrels of apples won’t stop me when I start, and a dozen Teds won’t trip me up, though they may try. I’ll show him that a woman can act as well, if not better, than a man. It has been done, and will be again; and I’ll never own that my brain isn’t as good as his, though it may be smaller,’ cried the excited young person.
‘If you shake your head in that violent way you’ll addle what brains you have got; and I’d take care of ’em, if I were you,’ began teasing Ted.
‘What started this civil war?’ asked Grandpapa, with a gentle emphasis on the adjective, which caused the combatants to calm their ardour a little.
‘Why, we were pegging away at the Iliad and came to where Zeus tells Juno not to inquire into his plans or he’ll whip her, and Jo was disgusted because Juno meekly hushed up. I said it was all right, and agreed with the old fellow that women didn’t know much and ought to obey men,’ explained Ted, to the great amusement of his hearers.
‘Goddesses may do as they like, but those Greek and Trojan women were poor-spirited things if they minded men who couldn’t fight their own battles and had to be hustled off by Pallas, and Venus, and Juno, when they were going to get beaten. The idea of two armies stopping and sitting down while a pair of heroes flung stones at one another! I don’t think much of your old Homer. Give me Napoleon or Grant for my hero.’
Josie’s scorn was as funny as if a humming-bird scolded at an ostrich, and everyone laughed as she sniffed at the immortal poet and criticized the gods.
‘Napoleon’s Juno had a nice time; didn’t she? That’s just the way girls argue–first one way and then the other,’ jeered Ted.
‘Like Johnson’s young lady, who was “not categorical, but all wiggle-waggle”,’ added Uncle Laurie, enjoying the battle immensely.
‘I was only speaking of them as soldiers. But if you come to the woman side of it, wasn’t Grant a kind husband and Mrs Grant a happy woman? He didn’t threaten to whip her if she asked a natural question; and if Napoleon did do wrong about Josephine, he could fight, and didn’t want any Minerva to come fussing over him. They were a stupid set, from dandified Paris to Achilles sulking in his ships, and I won’t change my opinion for all the Hectors and Agamemnons in Greece,’ said Josie, still unconquered.
‘You can fight like a Trojan, that’s evident; and we will be the two obedient armies looking on while you and Ted have it out,’ began Uncle Laurie, assuming the attitude of a warrior leaning on his spear.
‘I fear we must give it up, for Pallas is about to descend and carry off our Hector,’ said Mr March, smiling, as Jo came to remind her son that suppertime was near.
‘We will fight it out later when there are no goddesses to interfere,’ said Teddy, as he turned away with unusual alacrity, remembering the treat in store.
‘Conquered by a muffin, by Jove!’ called Josie after him, exulting in an opportunity to use the classical exclamation forbidden to her sex.
But Ted shot a Parthian arrow as he retired in good order by replying, with a highly virtuous expression:
‘Obedience is a soldier’s first duty.’
Bent on her woman’s privilege of having the last word, Josie ran after him, but never uttered the scathing speech upon her lips, for a very brown young man in a blue suit came leaping up the steps with a cheery ‘Ahoy! ahoy! where is everybody?’
‘Emil! Emil!’ cried Josie, and in a moment Ted was upon him, and the late enemies ended their fray in a joyful welcome to the newcomer.
Muffins were forgotten, and towing their cousin like two fussy little tugs with a fine merchantman, the children returned to the parlour, where Emil kissed all the women and shook hands with all the men except his uncle; him he embraced in the good old German style, to the great delight of the observers.
‘Didn’t think I could get off today, but found I could, and steered straight for old Plum. Not a soul there, so I luffed and bore away for Parnassus, and here is every man Jack of you. Bless your hearts, how glad I am to see you all!’ exclaimed the sailor boy, beaming at them, as he stood with his legs apart as if he still felt the rocking deck under his feet.
‘You ought to “shiver your timbers”, not “bless our hearts”, Emil; it’s not nautical at all. Oh, how nice and shippy and tarry you do smell!’ said Josie, sniffing at him with great enjoyment of the fresh sea odours he brought with him. This was her favourite cousin, and she was his pet; so she knew that the bulging pockets of the blue jacket contained treasures for her at least.
‘Avast, my hearty, and let me take soundings before you dive,’ laughed Emil, understanding her affectionate caresses, and holding her off with one hand while with the other he rummaged out sundry foreign little boxes and parcels marked with different names, and handed them round with appropriate remarks, which caused much laughter; for Emil was a wag.
‘There’s a hawser that will hold our little cock-boat still about five minutes,’ he said, throwing a necklace of pretty pink coral over Josie’s head; ‘and here’s something the mermaids sent to Undine,’ he added, handing Bess a string of pearly shells on a silver chain.
I thought Daisy would like a fiddle, and Nat can find her a beau,’ continued the sailor, with a laugh, as he undid a dainty filigree brooch in the shape of a violin.
‘I know she will, and I’ll take it to her,’ answered Nat, as he vanished, glad of an errand, and sure that he could find Daisy though Emil had missed her.
Emil chuckled, and handed out a quaintly carved bear whose head opened, showing a capacious ink-stand. This he presented, with a scrape, to Aunt Jo.
‘Knowing your fondness for these fine animals, I brought this one to your pen.’
‘Very good, Commodore! Try again,’ said Mrs Jo, much pleased with her gift, which caused the Professor to prophesy ‘works of Shakespeare’ from its depths, so great would be the inspiration of the beloved bruin.
‘As Aunt Meg will wear caps, in spite of her youth, I got Ludmilla to get me some bits of lace. Hope you’ll like ’em’; and out of a soft paper came some filmy things, one of which soon lay like a net of snowflakes on Mrs Meg’s pretty hair.
‘I couldn’t find anything swell enough for Aunt Amy, because she has everything she wants, so I brought a little picture that always makes me think of her when Bess was a baby’; and he handed her an oval ivory locket, on which was painted a goldenhaired Madonna, with a rosy child folded in her blue mantle.
‘How lovely!’ cried everyone; and Aunt Amy at once hung it about her neck on the blue ribbon from Bess’s hair, charmed with her gift; for it recalled the happiest year of her life.
‘Now, I flatter myself I’ve got just the thing for Nan, neat but not gaudy, a sort of sign you see, and very appropriate for a doctor,’ said Emil, proudly displaying a pair of lava earrings shaped like little skulls.
‘Horrid!’ And Bess, who hated ugly things, turned her eyes to her own pretty shells.
‘She won’t wear earrings,’ said Josie.
‘Well, she’ll enjoy punching your ears then. She’s never so happy as when she’s overhauling her fellow creatures and going for ’em with a knife,’ answered Emil, undisturbed. ‘I’ve got a lot of plunder for you fellows in my chest, but I knew I should have no peace till my cargo for the girls was unloaded. Now tell me all the news.’ And, seated on Amy’s best marbletopped table, the sailor swung his legs and talked at the rate of ten knots an hour, till Aunt Jo carried them all off to a grand family tea in honour of the Commodore.
JO’S LAST SCRAPE
The March family had enjoyed a great many surprises in the course of their varied career, but the greatest of all was when the Ugly Duckling turned out to be, not a swan, but a golden goose, whose literary eggs found such an unexpected market that in ten years Jo’s wildest and most cherished dream actually came true. How or why it happened she never clearly understood, but all of a sudden she found herself famous in a small way, and, better still, with a snug little fortune in her pocket to clear away the obstacles of the present and assure the future of her boys.
It began during a bad year when everything went wrong at Plumfield; times were hard, the school dwindled, Jo overworked herself and had a long illness; Laurie and Amy were abroad, and the Bhaers too proud to ask help even of those as near and dear as this generous pair. Confined to her room, Jo got desperate over the state of affairs, till she fell back upon the long-disused pen as the only thing she could do to help fill up the gaps in the income. A book for girls being wanted by a certain publisher, she hastily scribbled a little story describing a few scenes and adventures in the lives of herself and sisters, though boys were more in her line, and with very slight hopes of success sent it out to seek its fortune.
Things always went by contraries with Jo. Her first book, laboured over for years, and launched full of the high hopes and ambitious dreams of youth, foundered on its voyage, though the wreck continued to float long afterward, to the profit of the publisher at least. The hastily written story, sent away with no thought beyond the few dollars it might bring, sailed with a fair wind and a wise pilot at the helm into public favour, and came home heavily laden with an unexpected cargo of gold and glory.
A more astonished woman probably never existed than Josephine Bhaer when her little ship came into port with flags flying, cannon that had been silent before now booming gaily, and, better than all, many kind faces rejoicing with her, many friendly hands grasping hers with cordial congratulations. After that it was plain sailing, and she merely had to load her ships and send them off on prosperous trips, to bring home stores of comfort for all she loved and laboured for.
The fame she never did quite accept; for it takes very little fire to make a great deal of smoke nowadays, and notoriety is not real glory. The fortune she could not doubt, and gratefully received; though it was not half so large a one as a generous world reported it to be. The tide having turned continued to rise, and floated the family comfortably into a snug harbour where the older members could rest secure from storms, and whence the younger ones could launch their boats for the voyage of life.
All manner of happiness, peace, and plenty came in those years to bless the patient waiters, hopeful workers, and devout believers in the wisdom and justice of Him who sends disappointment, poverty, and sorrow to try the love of human hearts and make success the sweeter when it comes. The world saw the prosperity, and kind souls rejoiced over the improved fortunes of the family; but the success Jo valued most, the happiness that nothing could change or take away, few knew much about.
It was the power of making her mother’s last years happy and serene; to see the burden of care laid down for ever, the weary hands at rest, the dear face untroubled by any anxiety, and the tender heart free to pour itself out in the wise charity which was its delight. As a girl, Jo’s favourite plan had been a room where Marmee could sit in peace and enjoy herself after her hard, heroic life. Now the dream had become a happy fact, and Marmee sat in her pleasant chamber with every comfort and luxury about her, loving daughters to wait on her as infirmities increased, a faithful mate to lean upon, and grand-children to brighten the twilight of life with their dutiful affection. A very precious time to all, for she rejoiced as only mothers can in the good fortunes of their children. She had lived to reap the harvest she sowed; had seen prayers answered, hopes blossom, good gifts bear fruit, peace and prosperity bless the home she had made; and then, like some brave, patient angel, whose work was done, turned her face heavenward, glad to rest.
This was the sweet and sacred side of the change; but it had its droll and thorny one, as all things have in this curious world of ours. After the first surprise, incredulity, and joy, which came to Jo, with the ingratitude of human nature, she soon tired of renown, and began to resent her loss of liberty. For suddenly the admiring public took possession of her and all her affairs, past, present, and to come. Strangers demanded to look at her, question, advise, warn, congratulate, and drive her out of her wits by well-meant but very wearisome attentions. If she declined to open her heart to them, they reproached her; if she refused to endow her pet charities, relieve private wants, or sympathize with every ill and trial known to humanity, she was called hard-hearted, selfish, and haughty; if she found it impossible to answer the piles of letters sent her, she was neglectful of her duty to the admiring public; and if she preferred the privacy of home to the pedestal upon which she was requested to pose, ‘the airs of literary people’ were freely criticized.
She did her best for the children, they being the public for whom she wrote, and laboured stoutly to supply the demand always in the mouths of voracious youth–‘More stories; more right away!’ Her family objected to this devotion at their expense, and her health suffered; but for a time she gratefully offered herself up on the altar of juvenile literature, feeling that she owed a good deal to the little friends in whose sight she had found favour after twenty years of effort.
But a time came when her patience gave out; and wearying of being a lion, she became a bear in nature as in name, and returning to her den, growled awfully when ordered out. Her family enjoyed the fun, and had small sympathy with her trials, but Jo came to consider it the worse scrape of her life; for liberty had always been her dearest possession, and it seemed to be fast going from her. Living in a lantern soon loses its charm, and she was too old, too tired, and too busy to like it. She felt that she had done all that could reasonably be required of her when autographs, photographs, and autobiographical sketches had been sown broadcast over the land; when artists had taken her home in all its aspects, and reporters had taken her in the grim one she always assumed on these trying occasions; when a series of enthusiastic boarding-schools had ravaged her grounds for trophies, and a steady stream of amiable pilgrims had worn her doorsteps with their respectful feet; when servants left after a week’s trial of the bell that rang all day; when her husband was forced to guard her at meals, and the boys to cover her retreat out of back windows on certain occasions when enterprising guests walked in unannounced at unfortunate moments.
A sketch of one day may perhaps explain the state of things, offer some excuse for the unhappy woman, and give a hint to the autograph-fiend now rampant in the land; for it is a true tale.
‘There ought to be a law to protect unfortunate authors,’ said Mrs Jo one morning soon after Emil’s arrival, when the mail brought her an unusually large and varied assortment of letters. ‘To me it is a more vital subject than international copyright; for time is money, peace is health, and I lose both with no return but less respect for my fellow creatures and a wild desire to fly into the wilderness, since I cannot shut my doors even in free America.’
‘Lion-hunters are awful when in search of their prey. If they could change places for a while it would do them good; and they’d see what bores they were when they “do themselves the honour of calling to express their admiration of our charming work”,’ quoted Ted, with a bow to his parent, now frowning over twelve requests for autographs.
‘I have made up my mind on one point,’ said Mrs Jo with great firmness. ‘I will not answer this kind of letter. I’ve sent at least six to this boy, and he probably sells them. This girl writes from a seminary, and if I send her one all the other girls will at once write for more. All begin by saying they know they intrude, and that I am of course annoyed by these requests; but they venture to ask because I like boys, or they like the books, or it is only one. Emerson and Whittier put these things in the wastepaper-basket; and though only a literary nursery-maid who provides moral pap for the young, I will follow their illustrious example; for I shall have no time to eat or sleep if I try to satisfy these dear unreasonable children’; and Mrs Jo swept away the entire batch with a sigh of relief.
‘I’ll open the others and let you eat your breakfast in peace, liebe Mutter,’ said Rob, who often acted as her secretary. ‘Here’s one from the South’; and breaking an imposing seal, he read:
‘MADAM, As it has pleased Heaven to bless your efforts with a large fortune, I feel no hesitation in asking you to supply funds to purchase a new communion-service for our church. To whatever denomination you belong, you will of course respond with liberality to such a request,
‘MRS X.Y. ZAVIER’
‘Send a civil refusal, dear. All I have to give must go to feed and clothe the poor at my gates. That is my thank-offering for success. Go on,’ answered his mother, with a grateful glance about her happy home.
‘A literary youth of eighteen proposes that you put your name to a novel he has written; and after the first edition your name is to be taken off and his put on. There’s a cool proposal for you. I guess you won’t agree to that, in spite of your soft-heartedness towards most of the young scribblers.’
‘Couldn’t be done. Tell him so kindly, and don’t let him send the manuscript. I have seven on hand now, and barely time to read my own,’ said Mrs Jo, pensively fishing a small letter out of the slop-bowl and opening it with care, because the down-hill address suggested that a child wrote it.
‘I will answer this myself. A little sick girl wants a book, and she shall have it, but I can’t write sequels to all the rest to please her. I should never come to an end if I tried to suit these voracious little Oliver Twists, clamouring for more. What next, Robin?’
‘This is short and sweet.
‘DEAR MRS BHAER, I am now going to give you my opinion of your works. I have read them all many times, and call them first-rate. Please go ahead.
‘Now that is what I like. Billy is a man of sense and a critic worth having, since he had read my works many times before expressing his opinion. He asks for no answer, so send my thanks and regards.’
‘Here’s a lady in England with seven girls, and she wishes to know your views upon education. Also what careers they shall follow the oldest being twelve. Don’t wonder she’s worried,’ laughed Rob.
‘I’ll try to answer it. But as I have no girls, my opinion isn’t worth much and will probably shock her, as I shall tell her to let them run and play and build up good, stout bodies before she talks about careers. They will soon show what they want, if they are let alone, and not all run in the same mould.’
‘Here’s a fellow who wants to know what sort of a girl he shall marry, and if you know of any like those in your stories.’
‘Give him Nan’s address, and see what he’ll get,’ proposed Ted, privately resolving to do it himself if possible.
‘This is from a lady who wants you to adopt her child and lend her money to study art abroad for a few years. Better take it, and try your hand at a girl, mother.’
‘No, thank you, I will keep to my own line of business. What is that blotted one? It looks rather awful, to judge by the ink,’ asked Mrs Jo, who beguiled her daily task by trying to guess from the outside what was inside her many letters. This proved to be a poem from an insane admirer, to judge by its incoherent style.
‘Oh, were I a heliotrope,
I would play poet,
And blow a breeze of fragrance
To you; and none should know it.
‘Your form like the stately elm
When Phoebus gilds the morning ray; Your cheeks like the ocean bed
That blooms a rose in May.
‘Your words are wise and bright,
I bequeath them to you a legacy given; And when your spirit takes its flight, May it bloom aflower in heaven.
‘My tongue in flattering language spoke, And sweeter silence never broke
in busiest street or loneliest glen. I take you with the flashes of my pen.
‘Consider the lilies, how they grow; They toil not, yet are fair,
Gems and flowers and Solomon’s seal. The geranium of the world is J. M. Bhaer.
While the boys shouted over this effusion–which is a true one– their mother read several liberal offers from budding magazines for her to edit them gratis; one long letter from a young girl inconsolable because her favourite hero died, and ‘would dear Mrs Bhaer rewrite the tale, and make it end good?’ another from an irate boy denied an autograph, who darkly foretold financial ruin and loss of favour if she did not send him and all other fellows who asked autographs, photographs, and auto-biographical sketches; a minister wished to know her religion; and an undecided maiden asked which of her two lovers she should marry. These samples will suffice to show a few of the claims made on a busy woman’s time, and make my readers pardon Mrs Jo if she did not carefully reply to all.
‘That job is done. Now I will dust a bit, and then go to my work. I’m all behind-hand, and serials can’t wait; so deny me to everybody, Mary. I won’t see Queen Victoria if she comes today.’ And Mrs Bhaer threw down her napkin as if defying all creation.
‘I hope the day will go well with thee, my dearest,’ answered her husband, who had been busy with his own voluminous correspondence. ‘I will dine at college with Professor Plock, who is to visit us today. The Junglings can lunch on Parnassus; so thou shalt have a quiet time.’ And smoothing the worried lines out of her forehead with his good-bye kiss, the excellent man marched away, both pockets full of books, an old umbrella in one hand, and a bag of stones for the geology class in the other.
‘If all literary women had such thoughtful angels for husbands, they would live longer and write more. Perhaps that wouldn’t be a blessing to the world though, as most of us write too much now,’ said Mrs Jo, waving her feather duster to her spouse, who responded with flourishes of the umbrella as he went down the avenue.
Rob started for school at the same time, looking so much like him with his books and bag and square shoulders and steady air that his mother laughed as she turned away, saying heartily: ‘Bless both my dear professors, for better creatures never lived!’
Emil was already gone to his ship in the city; but Ted lingered to steal the address he wanted, ravage the sugar-bowl, and talk with ‘Mum’; for the two had great larks together. Mrs Jo always arranged her own parlour, refilled her vases, and gave the little touches that left it cool and neat for the day. Going to draw down the curtain, she beheld an artist sketching on the lawn, and groaned as she hastily retired to the back window to shake her duster.
At that moment the bell rang and the sound of wheels was heard in the road.
‘I’ll go; Mary lets ’em in’; and Ted smoothed his hair as he made for the hall.
‘Can’t see anyone. Give me a chance to fly upstairs,’ whispered Mrs Jo, preparing to escape. But before she could do so, a man appeared at the door with a card in his hand. Ted met him with a stern air, and his mother dodged behind the window-curtains to bide her time for escape.
‘I am doing a series of articles for the Saturday Tattler, and I called to see Mrs Bhaer the first of all,’ began the newcomer in the insinuating tone of his tribe, while his quick eyes were taking in all they could, experience having taught him to make the most of his time, as his visits were usually short ones.
‘Mrs Bhaer never sees reporters, sir.’
‘But a few moments will be all I ask,’ said the man, edging his way farther in.
‘You can’t see her, for she is out,’ replied Teddy, as a backward glance showed him that his unhappy parent had vanished–through the window, he supposed, as she sometimes did when hard bestead.
‘Very sorry. I’ll call again. Is this her study? Charming room!’ And the intruder fell back on the parlour, bound to see something and bag a fact if he died in the attempt. ‘It is not,’ said Teddy, gently but firmly backing him down the hall, devoutly hoping that his mother had escaped round the corner of the house.
‘If you could tell me Mrs Bhaer’s age and birthplace, date of marriage, and number of children, I should be much obliged,’ continued the unabashed visitor as he tripped over the door-mat.
‘She is about sixty, born in Nova Zembla, married just forty years ago today, and has eleven daughters. Anything else, sir?’ And Ted’s sober face was such a funny contrast to his ridiculous reply that the reporter owned himself routed, and retired laughing just as a lady followed by three beaming girls came up the steps.
‘We are all the way from Oshkosh, and couldn’t go home without seein’ dear Aunt Jo. My girls just admire her works, and lot on gettin’ a sight of her. I know it’s early; but we are goin’ to see Holmes and Longfeller, and the rest of the celebrities, so we ran out here fust thing. Mrs Erastus Kingsbury Parmalee, of Oshkosh, tell her. We don’t mind waitin’; we can look round a spell if she ain’t ready to see folks yet.’
All this was uttered with such rapidity that Ted could only stand gazing at the buxom damsels, who fixed their six blue eyes upon him so beseechingly that his native gallantry made it impossible to deny them a civil reply at least.
‘Mrs Bhaer is not visible today–out just now, I believe; but you can see the house and grounds if you like,’ he murmured, falling back as the four pressed in gazing rapturously about them.
‘Oh, thank you! Sweet, pretty place I’m sure! That’s where she writes, ain’t it? Do tell me if that’s her picture! Looks just as I imagined her!’
With these remarks the ladies paused before a fine engraving of the Hon. Mrs Norton, with a pen in her hand and a rapt expression of countenance, likewise a diadem and pearl necklace.
Keeping his gravity with an effort, Teddy pointed to a very bad portrait of Mrs Jo, which hung behind the door, and afforded her much amusement, it was so dismal, in spite of a curious effect of light upon the end of the nose and cheeks as red as the chair she sat in.
‘This was taken for my mother; but it is not very good,’ he said, enjoying the struggles of the girls not to look dismayed at the sad difference between the real and the ideal. The youngest, aged twelve, could not conceal her disappointment, and turned away, feeling as so many of us have felt when we discover that our idols are very ordinary men and women.
‘I thought she’d be about sixteen and have her hair braided in two tails down her back. I don’t care about seeing her now,’ said the honest child, walking off to the hall door, leaving her mother to apologize, and her sisters to declare that the bad portrait was ‘perfectly lovely, so speaking and poetic, you know, ‘specially about the brow’.
‘Come girls, we must be goin’, if we want to get through today. You can leave your albums and have them sent when Mrs Bhaer has written a sentiment in ’em. We are a thousand times obliged. Give our best love to your ma, and tell her we are so sorry not to see her.’ Just as Mrs. Erastus Kingsbury Parmalee uttered the words her eye fell upon a middle-aged woman in a large checked apron, with a handkerchief tied over her head, busily dusting an end room which looked like a study.
‘One peep at her sanctum since she is out,’ cried the enthusiastic lady, and swept across the hall with her flock before Teddy could warn his mother, whose retreat had been cut off by the artist in front, the reporter at the back of the house–for he hadn’t gone and the ladies in the hall.
‘They’ve got her!’ thought Teddy, in comical dismay. ‘No use for her to play housemaid since they’ve seen the portrait.’
Mrs Jo did her best, and being a good actress, would have escaped if the fatal picture had not betrayed her. Mrs Parmalee paused at the desk, and regardless of the meerschaum that lay there, the man’s slippers close by, and a pile of letters directed to ‘Prof. F. Bhaer’, she clasped her hands, exclaiming impressively: ‘Girls, this is the spot where she wrote those sweet, those moral tales which have thrilled us to the soul! Could I–ah, could I take one morsel of paper, an old pen, a postage stamp even, as a memento of this gifted woman?’
‘Yes’m, help yourselves,’ replied the maid, moving away with a glance at the boy, whose eyes were now full of merriment he could not suppress.
The oldest girl saw it, guessed the truth, and a quick look at the woman in the apron confirmed her suspicion. Touching her mother, she whispered: ‘Ma, it’s Mrs Bhaer herself. I know it is.’
‘No? yes? it is! Well, I do declare, how nice that is!’ And hastily pursuing the unhappy woman, who was making for the door, Mrs Parmalee cried eagerly:
‘Don’t mind us! I know you’re busy, but just let me take your hand and then we’ll go.’
Giving herself up for lost, Mrs Jo turned and presented her hand like a tea-tray, submitting to have it heartily shaken, as the matron said, with somewhat alarming hospitality:
‘If ever you come to Oshkosh, your feet won’t be allowed to touch the pavement; for you’ll be borne in the arms of the populace, we shall be so dreadful glad to see you.’
Mentally resolving never to visit that effusive town, Jo responded as cordially as she could; and having written her name in the albums, provided each visitor with a memento, and kissed them all round, they at last departed, to call on ‘Longfeller, Holmes, and the rest’–who were all out, it is devoutly to be hoped.
‘You villain, why didn’t you give me a chance to whip away? Oh, my dear, what fibs you told that man! I hope we shall be forgiven our sins in this line, but I don’t know what is to become of us if we don’t dodge. So many against one isn’t fair play.’ And Mrs Jo hung up her apron in the hall closet, with a groan at the trials of her lot.
‘More people coming up the avenue! Better dodge while the coast is clear! I’ll head them off!’ cried Teddy, looking back from the steps, as he was departing to school.
Mrs Jo flew upstairs, and having locked her door, calmly viewed a young ladies’ seminary camp on the lawn, and being denied the house, proceed to enjoy themselves by picking the flowers, doing up their hair, eating lunch, and freely expressing their opinion of the place and its possessors before they went.
A few hours of quiet followed, and she was just settling down to a long afternoon of hard work, when Rob came home to tell her that the Young Men’s Christian Union would visit the college, and two or three of the fellows whom she knew wanted to pay their respects to her on the way.
‘It is going to rain, so they won’t come, I dare say; but father thought you’d like to be ready, in case they do call. You always see the boys, you know, though you harden your heart to the poor girls,’ said Rob, who had heard from his brother about the morning visitations.
‘Boys don’t gush, so I can stand it. The last time I let in a party of girls one fell into my arms and said, “Darling, love me!” I wanted to shake her,’ answered Mrs Jo, wiping her pen with energy.
‘You may be sure the fellows won’t do it, but they will want autographs, so you’d better be prepared with a few dozen,’ said Rob, laying out a quire of notepaper, being a hospitable youth and sympathizing with those who admired his mother.
‘They can’t outdo the girls. At X College I really believe I wrote three hundred during the day I was there, and I left a pile of cards and albums on my table when I came away. It is one of the most absurd and tiresome manias that ever afflicted the world.’
Nevertheless Mrs Jo wrote her name a dozen times, put on her black silk, and resigned herself to the impending call, praying for rain, however, as she returned to her work.
The shower came, and feeling quite secure, she rumpled up her hair, took off her cuffs, and hurried to finish her chapter; for thirty pages a day was her task, and she liked to have it well done before evening. Josie had brought some flowers for the vases, and was just putting the last touches when she saw several umbrellas bobbing down the hill.
‘They are coming, Aunty! I see uncle hurrying across the field to receive them,’ she called at the stair-foot.
‘Keep an eye on them, and let me know when they enter the avenue. It will take but a minute to tidy up and run down,’ answered Mrs Jo, scribbling away for dear life, because serials wait for no man, not even the whole Christian Union en masse.
‘There are more than two or three. I see half a dozen at least,’ called sister Ann from the hall door. ‘No! a dozen, I do believe; Aunty, look out; they are all coming! What shall we do?’ And Josie quailed at the idea of facing the black throng rapidly approaching.
‘Mercy on us, there are hundreds! Run and put a tub in the back entry for their umbrellas to drip into. Tell them to go down the hall and leave them, and pile their hats on the table; the tree won’t hold them all. No use to get mats; my poor carpets!’ And down went Mrs Jo to prepare for the invasion, while Josie and the maids flew about dismayed at the prospect of so many muddy boots.
On they came, a long line of umbrellas, with splashed legs and flushed faces underneath; for the gentlemen had been having a good time all over the town, undisturbed by the rain. Professor Bhaer met them at the gate, and was making a little speech of welcome, when Mrs Jo, touched by their bedraggled state, appeared at the door, beckoning them in. Leaving their host to orate bareheaded in the wet, the young men hastened up the steps, merry, warm, and eager, clutching off their hats as they came, and struggling with their umbrellas, as the order was passed to march in and stack arms.
Tramp, tramp, tramp, down the hall went seventy-five pairs of boots; soon seventy-five umbrellas dripped sociably in the hospitable tub, while their owners swarmed all over the lower part of the house; and seventy-five hearty hands were shaken by the hostess without a murmur, though some were wet, some very warm, and nearly all bore trophies of the day’s ramble. One impetuous party flourished a small turtle as he made his compliments; another had a load of sticks cut from noted spots; and all begged for some memento of Plumfield. A pile of cards mysteriously appeared on the table, with a written request for autographs; and despite her morning vow, Mrs Jo wrote everyone, while her husband and boys did the honours of the house.
Josie fled to the back parlour, but was discovered by exploring youths, and mortally insulted by one of them, who innocently inquired if she was Mrs Bhaer. The reception did not last long, and the end was better than the beginning; for the rain ceased, and a rainbow shone beautifully over them as the good fellows stood upon the lawn singing sweetly for a farewell. A happy omen, that bow of promise arched over the young heads, as if Heaven smiled upon their union, and showed them that above the muddy earth and rainy skies the blessed sun still shone for all. Three cheers, and then away they went, leaving a pleasant recollection of their visit to amuse the family as they scraped the mud off the carpets with shovels and emptied the tub half-full of water.
‘Nice, honest, hard-working fellows, and I don’t begrudge my half-hour at all; but I must finish, so don’t let anyone disturb me till tea-time,’ said Mrs Jo, leaving Mary to shut up the house; for papa and the boys had gone off with the guests, and Josie had run home to tell her mother about the fun at Aunt Jo’s.
Peace reigned for an hour, then the bell rang and Mary came giggling up to say: ‘A queer kind of a lady wants to know if she can catch a grasshopper in the garden.’
‘A what?’ cried Mrs Jo, dropping her pen with a blot; for of all the odd requests ever made, this was the oddest.
‘A grasshopper, ma’am. I said you was busy, and asked what she wanted, and says she: “I’ve got grasshoppers from the grounds of several famous folks, and I want one from Plumfield to add to my collection.” Did you ever?’ And Mary giggled again at the idea.
‘Tell her to take all there are and welcome. I shall be glad to get rid of them; always bouncing in my face and getting in my dress,’ laughed Mrs Jo.
Mary retired, to return in a moment nearly speechless with merriment.
‘She’s much obliged, ma’am, and she’d like an old gown or a pair of stockings of yours to put in a rug she’s making. Got a vest of Emerson’s, she says, and a pair of Mr. Holmes’s trousers, and a dress of Mrs Stowe’s. She must be crazy!’
‘Give her that old red shawl, then I shall make a gay show among the great ones in that astonishing rug. Yes, they are all lunatics, these lion-hunters; but this seems to be a harmless maniac, for she doesn’t take my time, and gives me a good laugh,’ said Mrs Jo, returning to her work after a glance from the window, which showed her a tall, thin lady in rusty black, skipping wildly to and fro on the lawn in pursuit of the lively insect she wanted.
No more interruptions till the light began to fade, then Mary popped her head in to say a gentleman wished to see Mrs Bhaer, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
‘He must. I shall not go down. This has been an awful day, and I won’t be disturbed again,’ replied the harassed authoress, pausing in the midst of the grand finale of her chapter.
‘I told him so, ma’am; but he walked right in as bold as brass. I guess he’s another crazy one, and I declare I’m ‘most afraid of him, he’s so big and black, and cool as cucumbers, though I will say he’s good-looking,’ added Mary, with a simper; for the stranger had evidently found favour in her sight despite his boldness.
‘My day has been ruined, and I will have this last half-hour to finish. Tell him to go away; I won’t go down,’ cried Mrs Jo, fiercely.
Mary went; and listening, in spite of herself, her mistress heard first a murmur of voices, then a cry from Mary, and remembering the ways of reporters, also that her maid was both pretty and timid, Mrs Bhaer flung down her pen and went to the rescue. Descending with her most majestic air she demanded in an awe-inspiring voice, as she paused to survey the somewhat brigandish intruder, who seemed to be storming the staircase which Mary was gallantly defending:
‘Who is this person who insists on remaining when I have declined to see him?’
‘I’m sure I don’t know, ma’am. He won’t give no name, and says you’ll be sorry if you don’t see him,’ answered Mary, retiring flushed and indignant from her post.
‘Won’t you be sorry?’ asked the stranger, looking up with a pair of black eyes full of laughter, the flash of white teeth through a long beard, and both hands out as he boldly approached the irate lady.
Mrs Jo gave one keen look, for the voice was familiar; then completed Mary’s bewilderment by throwing both arms round the brigand’s neck, exclaiming joyfully: ‘My dearest boy, where did you come from?’
‘California, on purpose to see you, Mother Bhaer. Now won’t you be sorry if I go away?’ answered Dan, with a hearty kiss.
‘To think of my ordering you out of the house when I’ve been longing to see you for a year,’ laughed Mrs Jo, and she went down to have a good talk with her returned wanderer, who enjoyed the joke immensely.
Mrs Jo often thought that Dan had Indian blood in him, not only because of his love of a wild, wandering life, but his appearance; for as he grew up, this became more striking. At twenty-five he was very tall, with sinewy limbs, a keen, dark face, and the alert look of one whose senses were all alive; rough in manner, full of energy, quick with word and blow, eyes full of the old fire, always watchful as if used to keep guard, and a general air of vigour and freshness very charming to those who knew the dangers and delights of his adventurous life. He was looking his best as he sat talking with ‘Mother Bhaer’, one strong brown hand in hers, and a world of affection in his voice as he said:
‘Forget old friends! How could I forget the only home I ever knew? Why, I was in such a hurry to come and tell my good luck that I didn’t stop to fix up, you see; though I knew you’d think I looked more like a wild buffalo than ever,’ with a shake of his shaggy black head, a tug at his beard, and a laugh that made the room ring.
‘I like it; I always had a fancy for banditti–and you look just like one. Mary, being a newcomer, was frightened at your looks and manners. Josie won’t know you, but Ted will recognize his Danny in spite of the big beard and flowing mane. They will all be here soon to welcome you; so before they come tell me more about yourself. Why, Dan, dear! it’s nearly two years since you were here! Has it gone well with you?’ asked Mrs Jo, who had been listening with maternal interest to his account of life in California, and the unexpected success of a small investment he had made.
‘First-rate! I don’t care for the money, you know. I only want a trifle to pay my way–rather earn as I go, and not be bothered with the care of a lot. It’s the fun of the thing coming to me, and my being able to give away, that I like. No use to lay up; I shan’t live to be old and need it,–my sort never do,’ said Dan, looking as if his little fortune rather oppressed him.
‘But if you marry and settle somewhere, as I hope you will, you must have something to begin with, my son. So be prudent and invest your money; don’t give it away, for rainy days come to all of us, and dependence would be very hard for you to bear,’ answered Mrs Jo with a sage air, though she liked to see that the money-making fever had not seized her lucky boy yet.
Dan shook his head, and glanced about the room as if he already found it rather confined and longed for all out-of-doors again.
‘Who would marry a jack-o’-lantern like me? Women like a steady-going man; I shall never be that.’
‘My dear boy, when I was a girl I liked just such adventurous fellows as you are. Anything fresh and daring, free and romantic, is always attractive to us womenfolk. Don’t be discouraged; you’ll find an anchor some day, and be content to take shorter voyages and bring home a good cargo.’
‘What should you say if I brought you an Indian squaw some day?’ asked Dan, with a glimmer of mischief in the eyes that rested on a marble bust of Galatea gleaming white and lovely in the corner.
‘Welcome her heartily, if she was a good one. Is there a prospect of it?’ and Mrs Jo peered at him with the interest which even literary ladies take in love affairs.
‘Not at present, thank you. I’m too busy “to gallivant”, as Ted calls it. How is the boy?’ asked Dan, skilfully turning the conversation, as if he had had enough of sentiment.
Mrs Jo was off at once, and expatiated upon the talents and virtues of her sons till they came bursting in and fell upon Dan like two affectionate young bears, finding a vent for their joyful emotions in a sort of friendly wrestling-match; in which both got worsted, of course, for the hunter soon settled them. The Professor followed, and tongues went like mill-clappers while Mary lighted up and cook devoted herself to an unusually good supper, instinctively divining that this guest was a welcome one.
After tea Dan was walking up and down the long rooms as he talked, with occasional trips into the hall for a fresher breath of air, his lungs seeming to need more than those of civilized people. In one of these trips he saw a white figure framed in the dark doorway, and paused to look at it. Bess paused also, not recognizing her old friend, and quite unconscious of the pretty picture she made standing, tall and slender, against the soft gloom of the summer night, with her golden hair like a halo round her head, and the ends of a white shawl blown out like wings by the cool wind sweeping through the hail. ‘Is it Dan?’ she asked, coming in with a gracious smile and outstretched hand.
‘Looks like it; but I didn’t know you, Princess. I thought it was a spirit,’ answered Dan, looking down at her with a curious softness and wonder in his face.
‘I’ve grown very much, but two years have changed you entirely’; and Bess looked up with girlish pleasure at the picturesque figure before her–for it was a decided contrast to the well-dressed people about her.
Before they could say more, Josie rushed in, and, forgetfull of the newly acquired dignity of her teens, let Dan catch her up and kiss her like a child. Not till he set her down did he discover she also was changed, and exclaimed in comic dismay:
‘Hallo! Why, you are growing up too! What am I going to do, with no young one to play with? Here’s Ted going it like a beanstalk, and Bess a young lady, and even you, my mustard-seed, letting down your frocks and putting on airs.’
The girls laughed, and Josie blushed as she stared at the tall man, conscious that she had leaped before she looked. They made a pretty contrast, these two young cousins–one as fair as a lily, the other a little wild rose. And Dan gave a nod of satisfaction as he surveyed them; for he had seen many bonny girls in his travels, and was glad that these old friends were blooming so beautifully.
‘Here! we can’t allow any monopoly of Dan!’ called Mrs Jo. ‘Bring him back and keep an eye on him, or he will be slipping off for another little run of a year or two before we have half seen him.’
Led by these agreeable captors, Dan returned to the parlour to receive a scolding from Josie for getting ahead of all the other boys and looking like a man first.
‘Emil is older; but he’s only a boy, and dances jigs and sings sailor songs just as he used to. You look about thirty, and as big and black as a villain in a play. Oh, I’ve got a splendid idea! You are just the thing for Arbaces in The Last Days of Pompeii. We want to act it; have the lion and the gladiators and the eruption. Tom and Ted are going to shower bushels of ashes down and roll barrels of stones about. We wanted a dark man for the Egyptian; and you will be gorgeous in red and white shawls. Won’t he, Aunt Jo?’
This deluge of words made Dan clap his hands over his ears; and before Mrs Bhaer could answer her impetuous niece the Laurences, with Meg and her family, arrived, soon followed by Tom and Nan, and all sat down to listen to Dan’s adventures–told in brief yet effective manner, as the varying expressions of interest, wonder, merriment, and suspense painted on the circle of faces round him plainly showed. The boys all wanted to start at once for California and make fortunes; the girls could hardly wait for the curious and pretty things he had picked up for them in his travels; while the elders rejoiced heartily over the energy and good prospects of their wild boy.
‘Of course you will want to go back for another stroke of luck; and I hope you will have it. But speculation is a dangerous game, and you may lose all you’ve won,’ said Mr Laurie, who had enjoyed the stirring tale as much as any of the boys, and would have liked to rough it with Dan as well as they.
‘I’ve had enough of it, for a while at least; too much like gambling. The excitement is all I care for, and it isn’t good for me. I have a notion to try farming out West. It’s grand on a large scale; and I feel as if steady work would be rather jolly after loafing round so long. I can make a beginning, and you can send me your black sheep to stock my place with. I tried sheep-farming in Australia, and know something about black ones, any way.’
A laugh chased away the sober look in Dan’s face as he ended; and those who knew him best guessed that he had learned a lesson there in San Francisco, and dared not try again.
‘That is a capital idea, Dan!’ cried Mrs Jo, seeing great hope in this desire to fix himself somewhere and help others. ‘We shall know