Beth was postmistress, for, being most at home, she could attend to i_egularly, and dearly liked the daily task of unlocking the little door an_istributing the mail. One July day she came in with her hands full, and wen_bout the house leaving letters and parcels like the penny post.
"Here's your posy, Mother! Laurie never forgets that," she said, putting th_resh nosegay in the vase that stood in 'Marmee's corner', and was kep_upplied by the affectionate boy.
"Miss Meg March, one letter and a glove," continued Beth, delivering th_rticles to her sister, who sat near her mother, stitching wristbands.
"Why, I left a pair over there, and here is only one," said Meg, looking a_he gray cotton glove. "Didn't you drop the other in the garden?"
"No, I'm sure I didn't, for there was only one in the office."
"I hate to have odd gloves! Never mind, the other may be found. My letter i_nly a translation of the German song I wanted. I think Mr. Brooke did it, fo_his isn't Laurie's writing."
Mrs. March glanced at Meg, who was looking very pretty in her gingham mornin_own, with the little curls blowing about her forehead, and very womanly, a_he sat sewing at her little worktable, full of tidy white rolls, s_nconscious of the thought in her mother's mind as she sewed and sang, whil_er fingers flew and her thoughts were busied with girlish fancies as innocen_nd fresh as the pansies in her belt, that Mrs. March smiled and wa_atisfied.
"Two letters for Doctor Jo, a book, and a funny old hat, which covered th_hole post office and stuck outside," said Beth, laughing as she went into th_tudy where Jo sat writing.
"What a sly fellow Laurie is! I said I wished bigger hats were the fashion, because I burn my face every hot day. He said, 'Why mind the fashion? Wear _ig hat, and be comfortable!' I said I would if I had one, and he has sent m_his, to try me. I'll wear it for fun, and show him I don't care for th_ashion." And hanging the antique broad-brim on a bust of Plato, Jo read he_etters.
One from her mother made her cheeks glow and her eyes fill, for it said t_er…
> My Dear:
> I write a little word to tell you with how much satisfaction I watch you_fforts to control your temper. You say nothing about your trials, failures, or successes, and think, perhaps, that no one sees them but the Friend whos_elp you daily ask, if I may trust the well-worn cover of your guidebook. I, too, have seen them all, and heartily believe in the sincerity of you_esolution, since it begins to bear fruit. Go on, dear, patiently and bravely, and always believe that no one sympathizes more tenderly with you than you_oving…
"That does me good! That's worth millions of money and pecks of praise. Oh, Marmee, I do try! I will keep on trying, and not get tired, since I have yo_o help me."
Laying her head on her arms, Jo wet her little romance with a few happy tears, for she had thought that no one saw and appreciated her efforts to be good, and this assurance was doubly precious, doubly encouraging, because unexpecte_nd from the person whose commendation she most valued. Feeling stronger tha_ver to meet and subdue her Apollyon, she pinned the note inside her frock, a_ shield and a reminder, lest she be taken unaware, and proceeded to open he_ther letter, quite ready for either good or bad news. In a big, dashing hand, Laurie wrote…
> Dear Jo, What ho!
> Some english girls and boys are coming to see me tomorrow and I want to hav_ jolly time. If it's fine, I'm going to pitch my tent in Longmeadow, and ro_p the whole crew to lunch and croquet—have a fire, make messes, gyps_ashion, and all sorts of larks. They are nice people, and like such things.
Brooke will go to keep us boys steady, and Kate Vaughn will play propriety fo_he girls. I want you all to come, can't let Beth off at any price, and nobod_hall worry her. Don't bother about rations, I'll see to that and everythin_lse, only do come, there's a good fellow!
> In a tearing hurry, Yours ever, Laurie.
"Here's richness!" cried Jo, flying in to tell the news to Meg.
"Of course we can go, Mother? It will be such a help to Laurie, for I can row, and Meg see to the lunch, and the children be useful in some way."
"I hope the Vaughns are not fine grown-up people. Do you know anything abou_hem, Jo?" asked Meg.
"Only that there are four of them. Kate is older than you, Fred and Frank (twins) about my age, and a little girl (Grace), who is nine or ten. Lauri_new them abroad, and liked the boys. I fancied, from the way he primmed u_is mouth in speaking of her, that he didn't admire Kate much."
"I'm so glad my French print is clean, it's just the thing and so becoming!"
observed Meg complacently. "Have you anything decent, Jo?"
"Scarlet and gray boating suit, good enough for me. I shall row and tram_bout, so I don't want any starch to think of. You'll come, Betty?"
"If you won't let any boys talk to me."
"Not a boy!"
"I like to please Laurie, and I'm not afraid of Mr. Brooke, he is so kind. Bu_ don't want to play, or sing, or say anything. I'll work hard and not troubl_nyone, and you'll take care of me, Jo, so I'll go."
"That's my good girl. You do try to fight off your shyness, and I love you fo_t. Fighting faults isn't easy, as I know, and a cheery word kind of gives _ift. Thank you, Mother," And Jo gave the thin cheek a grateful kiss, mor_recious to Mrs. March than if it had given back the rosy roundness of he_outh.
"I had a box of chocolate drops, and the picture I wanted to copy," said Amy, showing her mail.
"And I got a note from Mr. Laurence, asking me to come over and play to hi_onight, before the lamps are lighted, and I shall go," added Beth, whos_riendship with the old gentleman prospered finely.
"Now let's fly round, and do double duty today, so that we can play tomorro_ith free minds," said Jo, preparing to replace her pen with a broom.
When the sun peeped into the girls' room early next morning to promise them _ine day, he saw a comical sight. Each had made such preparation for the fet_s seemed necessary and proper. Meg had an extra row of little curlpaper_cross her forehead, Jo had copiously anointed her afflicted face with col_ream, Beth had taken Joanna to bed with her to atone for the approachin_eparation, and Amy had capped the climax by putting a clothespin on her nos_o uplift the offending feature. It was one of the kind artists use to hol_he paper on their drawing boards, therefore quite appropriate and effectiv_or the purpose it was now being put. This funny spectacle appeared to amus_he sun, for he burst out with such radiance that Jo woke up and roused he_isters by a hearty laugh at Amy's ornament.
Sunshine and laughter were good omens for a pleasure party, and soon a livel_ustle began in both houses. Beth, who was ready first, kept reporting wha_ent on next door, and enlivened her sisters' toilets by frequent telegram_rom the window.
"There goes the man with the tent! I see Mrs. Barker doing up the lunch in _amper and a great basket. Now Mr. Laurence is looking up at the sky and th_eathercock. I wish he would go too. There's Laurie, looking like a sailor, nice boy! Oh, mercy me! Here's a carriage full of people, a tall lady, _ittle girl, and two dreadful boys. One is lame, poor thing, he's got _rutch. Laurie didn't tell us that. Be quick, girls! It's getting late. Why, there is Ned Moffat, I do declare. Meg, isn't that the man who bowed to yo_ne day when we were shopping?"
"So it is. How queer that he should come. I thought he was at the mountains.
There is Sallie. I'm glad she got back in time. Am I all right, Jo?" cried Me_n a flutter.
"A regular daisy. Hold up your dress and put your hat on straight, it look_entimental tipped that way and will fly off at the first puff. Now then, com_n!"
"Oh, Jo, you are not going to wear that awful hat? It's too absurd! You shal_ot make a guy of yourself," remonstrated Meg, as Jo tied down with a re_ibbon the broad-brimmed, old-fashioned leghorn Laurie had sent for a joke.
"I just will, though, for it's capital, so shady, light, and big. It will mak_un, and I don't mind being a guy if I'm comfortable." With that Jo marche_traight away and the rest followed, a bright little band of sisters, al_ooking their best in summer suits, with happy faces under the jaunt_atbrims.
Laurie ran to meet and present them to his friends in the most cordial manner.
The lawn was the reception room, and for several minutes a lively scene wa_nacted there. Meg was grateful to see that Miss Kate, though twenty, wa_ressed with a simplicity which American girls would do well to imitate, an_ho was much flattered by Mr. Ned's assurances that he came especially to se_er. Jo understood why Laurie 'primmed up his mouth' when speaking of Kate, for that young lady had a standoff-don't-touch-me air, which contraste_trongly with the free and easy demeanor of the other girls. Beth took a_bservation of the new boys and decided that the lame one was not 'dreadful', but gentle and feeble, and she would be kind to him on that account. Amy foun_race a well-mannered, merry, little person, and after staring dumbly at on_nother for a few minutes, they suddenly became very good friends.
Tents, lunch, and croquet utensils having been sent on beforehand, the part_as soon embarked, and the two boats pushed off together, leaving Mr. Laurenc_aving his hat on the shore. Laurie and Jo rowed one boat, Mr. Brooke and Ne_he other, while Fred Vaughn, the riotous twin, did his best to upset both b_addling about in a wherry like a disturbed water bug. Jo's funny hat deserve_ vote of thanks, for it was of general utility. It broke the ice in th_eginning by producing a laugh, it created quite a refreshing breeze, flappin_o and fro as she rowed, and would make an excellent umbrella for the whol_arty, if a shower came up, she said. Miss Kate decided that she was 'odd', but rather clever, and smiled upon her from afar.
Meg, in the other boat, was delightfully situated, face to face with th_owers, who both admired the prospect and feathered their oars with uncommon
'skill and dexterity'. Mr. Brooke was a grave, silent young man, with handsom_rown eyes and a pleasant voice. Meg liked his quiet manners and considere_im a walking encyclopedia of useful knowledge. He never talked to her much, but he looked at her a good deal, and she felt sure that he did not regard he_ith aversion. Ned, being in college, of course put on all the airs whic_reshmen think it their bounden duty to assume. He was not very wise, but ver_ood-natured, and altogether an excellent person to carry on a picnic. Salli_ardiner was absorbed in keeping her white pique dress clean and chatterin_ith the ubiquitous Fred, who kept Beth in constant terror by his pranks.
It was not far to Longmeadow, but the tent was pitched and the wickets down b_he time they arrived. A pleasant green field, with three wide-spreading oak_n the middle and a smooth strip of turf for croquet.
"Welcome to Camp Laurence!" said the young host, as they landed wit_xclamations of delight.
"Brooke is commander in chief, I am commissary general, the other fellows ar_taff officers, and you, ladies, are company. The tent is for your especia_enefit and that oak is your drawing room, this is the messroom and the thir_s the camp kitchen. Now, let's have a game before it gets hot, and then we'l_ee about dinner."
Frank, Beth, Amy, and Grace sat down to watch the game played by the othe_ight. Mr. Brooke chose Meg, Kate, and Fred. Laurie took Sallie, Jo, and Ned.
The English played well, but the Americans played better, and contested ever_nch of the ground as strongly as if the spirit of '76 inspired them. Jo an_red had several skirmishes and once narrowly escaped high words. Jo wa_hrough the last wicket and had missed the stroke, which failure ruffled her _ood deal. Fred was close behind her and his turn came before hers. He gave _troke, his ball hit the wicket, and stopped an inch on the wrong side. No on_as very near, and running up to examine, he gave it a sly nudge with his toe, which put it just an inch on the right side.
"I'm through! Now, Miss Jo, I'll settle you, and get in first," cried th_oung gentleman, swinging his mallet for another blow.
"You pushed it. I saw you. It's my turn now," said Jo sharply.
"Upon my word, I didn't move it. It rolled a bit, perhaps, but that i_llowed. So, stand off please, and let me have a go at the stake."
"We don't cheat in America, but you can, if you choose," said Jo angrily.
"Yankees are a deal the most tricky, everybody knows. There you go!" returne_red, croqueting her ball far away.
Jo opened her lips to say something rude, but checked herself in time, colore_p to her forehead and stood a minute, hammering down a wicket with all he_ight, while Fred hit the stake and declared himself out with much exultation.
She went off to get her ball, and was a long time finding it among the bushes, but she came back, looking cool and quiet, and waited her turn patiently. I_ook several strokes to regain the place she had lost, and when she got there, the other side had nearly won, for Kate's ball was the last but one and la_ear the stake.
"By George, it's all up with us! Goodbye, Kate. Miss Jo owes me one, so yo_re finished," cried Fred excitedly, as they all drew near to see the finish.
"Yankees have a trick of being generous to their enemies," said Jo, with _ook that made the lad redden, "especially when they beat them," she added, as, leaving Kate's ball untouched, she won the game by a clever stroke.
Laurie threw up his hat, then remembered that it wouldn't do to exult over th_efeat of his guests, and stopped in the middle of the cheer to whisper to hi_riend, "Good for you, Jo! He did cheat, I saw him. We can't tell him so, bu_e won't do it again, take my word for it."
Meg drew her aside, under pretense of pinning up a loose braid, and sai_pprovingly, "It was dreadfully provoking, but you kept your temper, and I'_o glad, Jo."
"Don't praise me, Meg, for I could box his ears this minute. I shoul_ertainly have boiled over if I hadn't stayed among the nettles till I got m_age under control enough to hold my tongue. It's simmering now, so I hop_e'll keep out of my way," returned Jo, biting her lips as she glowered a_red from under her big hat.
"Time for lunch," said Mr. Brooke, looking at his watch. "Commissary general, will you make the fire and get water, while Miss March, Miss Sallie, and _pread the table? Who can make good coffee?"
"Jo can," said Meg, glad to recommend her sister. So Jo, feeling that her lat_essons in cookery were to do her honor, went to preside over the coffeepot, while the children collected dry sticks, and the boys made a fire and go_ater from a spring near by. Miss Kate sketched and Frank talked to Beth, wh_as making little mats of braided rushes to serve as plates.
The commander in chief and his aides soon spread the tablecloth with a_nviting array of eatables and drinkables, prettily decorated with gree_eaves. Jo announced that the coffee was ready, and everyone settle_hemselves to a hearty meal, for youth is seldom dyspeptic, and exercis_evelops wholesome appetites. A very merry lunch it was, for everything seeme_resh and funny, and frequent peals of laughter startled a venerable horse wh_ed near by. There was a pleasing inequality in the table, which produced man_ishaps to cups and plates, acorns dropped in the milk, little black ant_artook of the refreshments without being invited, and fuzzy caterpillar_wung down from the tree to see what was going on. Three white-headed childre_eeped over the fence, and an objectionable dog barked at them from the othe_ide of the river with all his might and main.
"There's salt here," said Laurie, as he handed Jo a saucer of berries.
"Thank you, I prefer spiders," she replied, fishing up two unwary little one_ho had gone to a creamy death. "How dare you remind me of that horrid dinne_arty, when yours is so nice in every way?" added Jo, as they both laughed an_te out of one plate, the china having run short.
"I had an uncommonly good time that day, and haven't got over it yet. This i_o credit to me, you know, I don't do anything. It's you and Meg and Brook_ho make it all go, and I'm no end obliged to you. What shall we do when w_an't eat anymore?" asked Laurie, feeling that his trump card had been playe_hen lunch was over.
"Have games till it's cooler. I brought Authors, and I dare say Miss Kat_nows something new and nice. Go and ask her. She's company, and you ought t_tay with her more."
"Aren't you company too? I thought she'd suit Brooke, but he keeps talking t_eg, and Kate just stares at them through that ridiculous glass of hers. I'_oing, so you needn't try to preach propriety, for you can't do it, Jo."
Miss Kate did know several new games, and as the girls would not, and the boy_ould not, eat any more, they all adjourned to the drawing room to play Rig- marole.
"One person begins a story, any nonsense you like, and tells as long as h_leases, only taking care to stop short at some exciting point, when the nex_akes it up and does the same. It's very funny when well done, and makes _erfect jumble of tragical comical stuff to laugh over. Please start it, Mr.
Brooke," said Kate, with a commanding air, which surprised Meg, who treate_he tutor with as much respect as any other gentleman.
Lying on the grass at the feet of the two young ladies, Mr. Brooke obedientl_egan the story, with the handsome brown eyes steadily fixed upon the sunshin_iver.
"Once on a time, a knight went out into the world to seek his fortune, for h_ad nothing but his sword and his shield. He traveled a long while, nearl_ight-and-twenty years, and had a hard time of it, till he came to the palac_f a good old king, who had offered a reward to anyone who could tame an_rain a fine but unbroken colt, of which he was very fond. The knight agree_o try, and got on slowly but surely, for the colt was a gallant fellow, an_oon learned to love his new master, though he was freakish and wild. Ever_ay, when he gave his lessons to this pet of the king's, the knight rode hi_hrough the city, and as he rode, he looked everywhere for a certain beautifu_ace, which he had seen many times in his dreams, but never found. One day, a_e went prancing down a quiet street, he saw at the window of a ruinous castl_he lovely face. He was delighted, inquired who lived in this old castle, an_as told that several captive princesses were kept there by a spell, and spu_ll day to lay up money to buy their liberty. The knight wished intensely tha_e could free them, but he was poor and could only go by each day, watchin_or the sweet face and longing to see it out in the sunshine. At last h_esolved to get into the castle and ask how he could help them. He went an_nocked. The great door flew open, and he beheld… "
"A ravishingly lovely lady, who exclaimed, with a cry of rapture, 'At last! A_ast!'" continued Kate, who had read French novels, and admired the style.
"'Tis she!' cried Count Gustave, and fell at her feet in an ecstasy of joy.
'Oh, rise!' she said, extending a hand of marble fairness. 'Never! Till yo_ell me how I may rescue you,' swore the knight, still kneeling. 'Alas, m_ruel fate condemns me to remain here till my tyrant is destroyed.' 'Where i_he villain?' 'In the mauve salon. Go, brave heart, and save me from despair.'
'I obey, and return victorious or dead!' With these thrilling words he rushe_way, and flinging open the door of the mauve salon, was about to enter, whe_e received… "
"A stunning blow from the big Greek lexicon, which an old fellow in a blac_own fired at him," said Ned. "Instantly, Sir What's-his-name recovere_imself, pitched the tyrant out of the window, and turned to join the lady, victorious, but with a bump on his brow, found the door locked, tore up th_urtains, made a rope ladder, got halfway down when the ladder broke, and h_ent headfirst into the moat, sixty feet below. Could swim like a duck, paddled round the castle till he came to a little door guarded by two stou_ellows, knocked their heads together till they cracked like a couple of nuts, then, by a trifling exertion of his prodigious strength, he smashed in th_oor, went up a pair of stone steps covered with dust a foot thick, toads a_ig as your fist, and spiders that would frighten you into hysterics, Mis_arch. At the top of these steps he came plump upon a sight that took hi_reath away and chilled his blood… "
"A tall figure, all in white with a veil over its face and a lamp in it_asted hand," went on Meg. "It beckoned, gliding noiselessly before him down _orridor as dark and cold as any tomb. Shadowy effigies in armor stood o_ither side, a dead silence reigned, the lamp burned blue, and the ghostl_igure ever and anon turned its face toward him, showing the glitter of awfu_yes through its white veil. They reached a curtained door, behind whic_ounded lovely music. He sprang forward to enter, but the specter plucked hi_ack, and waved threateningly before him a… "
"Snuffbox," said Jo, in a sepulchral tone, which convulsed the audience.
"'Thankee,' said the knight politely, as he took a pinch and sneezed seve_imes so violently that his head fell off. 'Ha! Ha!' laughed the ghost, an_aving peeped through the keyhole at the princesses spinning away for dea_ife, the evil spirit picked up her victim and put him in a large tin box, where there were eleven other knights packed together without their heads, like sardines, who all rose and began to… "
"Dance a hornpipe," cut in Fred, as Jo paused for breath, "and, as the_anced, the rubbishy old castle turned to a man-of-war in full sail. 'Up wit_he jib, reef the tops'l halliards, helm hard alee, and man the guns!' roare_he captain, as a Portuguese pirate hove in sight, with a flag black as in_lying from her foremast. 'Go in and win, my hearties!' says the captain, an_ tremendous fight began. Of course the British beat—they always do."
"No, they don't!" cried Jo, aside.
"Having taken the pirate captain prisoner, sailed slap over the schooner, whose decks were piled high with dead and whose lee scuppers ran blood, fo_he order had been 'Cutlasses, and die hard!' 'Bosun's mate, take a bight o_he flying-jib sheet, and start this villain if he doesn't confess his sin_ouble quick,' said the British captain. The Portuguese held his tongue like _rick, and walked the plank, while the jolly tars cheered like mad. But th_ly dog dived, came up under the man-of-war, scuttled her, and down she went, with all sail set, 'To the bottom of the sea, sea, sea' where… "
"Oh, gracious! What shall I say?" cried Sallie, as Fred ended his rigmarole, in which he had jumbled together pell-mell nautical phrases and facts out o_ne of his favorite books. "Well, they went to the bottom, and a nice mermai_elcomed them, but was much grieved on finding the box of headless knights, and kindly pickled them in brine, hoping to discover the mystery about them, for being a woman, she was curious. By-and-by a diver came down, and th_ermaid said, 'I'll give you a box of pearls if you can take it up,' for sh_anted to restore the poor things to life, and couldn't raise the heavy loa_erself. So the diver hoisted it up, and was much disappointed on opening i_o find no pearls. He left it in a great lonely field, where it was found b_… "
"Little goose girl, who kept a hundred fat geese in the field," said Amy, whe_allie's invention gave out. "The little girl was sorry for them, and asked a_ld woman what she should do to help them. 'Your geese will tell you, the_now everything.' said the old woman. So she asked what she should use for ne_eads, since the old ones were lost, and all the geese opened their hundre_ouths and screamed… "
"'Cabbages!'" continued Laurie promptly. "'Just the thing,' said the girl, an_an to get twelve fine ones from her garden. She put them on, the knight_evived at once, thanked her, and went on their way rejoicing, never knowin_he difference, for there were so many other heads like them in the world tha_o one thought anything of it. The knight in whom I'm interested went back t_ind the pretty face, and learned that the princesses had spun themselves fre_nd all gone and married, but one. He was in a great state of mind at that, and mounting the colt, who stood by him through thick and thin, rushed to th_astle to see which was left. Peeping over the hedge, he saw the queen of hi_ffections picking flowers in her garden. 'Will you give me a rose?' said he.
'You must come and get it. I can't come to you, it isn't proper,' said she, a_weet as honey. He tried to climb over the hedge, but it seemed to grow highe_nd higher. Then he tried to push through, but it grew thicker and thicker, and he was in despair. So he patiently broke twig after twig till he had mad_ little hole through which he peeped, saying imploringly, 'Let me in! Let m_n!' But the pretty princess did not seem to understand, for she picked he_oses quietly, and left him to fight his way in. Whether he did or not, Fran_ill tell you."
"I can't. I'm not playing, I never do," said Frank, dismayed at th_entimental predicament out of which he was to rescue the absurd couple. Bet_ad disappeared behind Jo, and Grace was asleep.
"So the poor knight is to be left sticking in the hedge, is he?" asked Mr.
Brooke, still watching the river, and playing with the wild rose in hi_uttonhole.
"I guess the princess gave him a posy, and opened the gate after a while,"
said Laurie, smiling to himself, as he threw acorns at his tutor.
"What a piece of nonsense we have made! With practice we might do somethin_uite clever. Do you know Truth?"
"I hope so," said Meg soberly.
"The game, I mean?"
"What is it?" said Fred.
"Why, you pile up your hands, choose a number, and draw out in turn, and th_erson who draws at the number has to answer truly any question put by th_est. It's great fun."
"Let's try it," said Jo, who liked new experiments.
Miss Kate and Mr. Brooke, Meg, and Ned declined, but Fred, Sallie, Jo, an_aurie piled and drew, and the lot fell to Laurie.
"Who are your heroes?" asked Jo.
"Grandfather and Napoleon."
"Which lady here do you think prettiest?" said Sallie.
"Which do you like best?" from Fred.
"Jo, of course."
"What silly questions you ask!" And Jo gave a disdainful shrug as the res_aughed at Laurie's matter-of-fact tone.
"Try again. Truth isn't a bad game," said Fred.
"It's a very good one for you," retorted Jo in a low voice. Her turn cam_ext.
"What is your greatest fault?" asked Fred, by way of testing in her the virtu_e lacked himself.
"A quick temper."
"What do you most wish for?" said Laurie.
"A pair of boot lacings," returned Jo, guessing and defeating his purpose.
"Not a true answer. You must say what you really do want most."
"Genius. Don't you wish you could give it to me, Laurie?" And she slyly smile_n his disappointed face.
"What virtues do you most admire in a man?" asked Sallie.
"Courage and honesty."
"Now my turn," said Fred, as his hand came last.
"Let's give it to him," whispered Laurie to Jo, who nodded and asked at once…
"Didn't you cheat at croquet?"
"Well, yes, a little bit."
"Good! Didn't you take your story out of _The Sea Lion?_ " said Laurie.
"Don't you think the English nation perfect in every respect?" asked Sallie.
"I should be ashamed of myself if I didn't."
"He's a true John Bull. Now, Miss Sallie, you shall have a chance withou_aiting to draw. I'll harrrow up your feelings first by asking if you don'_hink you are something of a flirt," said Laurie, as Jo nodded to Fred as _ign that peace was declared.
"You impertinent boy! Of course I'm not," exclaimed Sallie, with an air tha_roved the contrary.
"What do you hate most?" asked Fred.
"Spiders and rice pudding."
"What do you like best?" asked Jo.
"Dancing and French gloves."
"Well, I think Truth is a very silly play. Let's have a sensible game o_uthors to refresh our minds," proposed Jo.
Ned, Frank, and the little girls joined in this, and while it went on, th_hree elders sat apart, talking. Miss Kate took out her sketch again, an_argaret watched her, while Mr. Brooke lay on the grass with a book, which h_id not read.
"How beautifully you do it! I wish I could draw," said Meg, with mingle_dmiration and regret in her voice.
"Why don't you learn? I should think you had taste and talent for it," replie_iss Kate graciously.
"I haven't time."
"Your mamma prefers other accomplishments, I fancy. So did mine, but I prove_o her that I had talent by taking a few lessons privately, and then she wa_uite willing I should go on. Can't you do the same with your governess?"
"I have none."
"I forgot young ladies in America go to school more than with us. Very fin_chools they are, too, Papa says. You go to a private one, I suppose?"
"I don't go at all. I am a governess myself."
"Oh, indeed!" said Miss Kate, but she might as well have said, "Dear me, ho_readful!" for her tone implied it, and something in her face made Meg color, and wish she had not been so frank.
Mr. Brooke looked up and said quickly, "Young ladies in America lov_ndependence as much as their ancestors did, and are admired and respected fo_upporting themselves."
"Oh, yes, of course it's very nice and proper in them to do so. We have man_ost respectable and worthy young women who do the same and are employed b_he nobility, because, being the daughters of gentlemen, they are both wel_red and accomplished, you know," said Miss Kate in a patronizing tone tha_urt Meg's pride, and made her work seem not only more distasteful, bu_egrading.
"Did the German song suit, Miss March?" inquired Mr. Brooke, breaking a_wkward pause.
"Oh, yes! It was very sweet, and I'm much obliged to whoever translated it fo_e." And Meg's downcast face brightened as she spoke.
"Don't you read German?" asked Miss Kate with a look of surprise.
"Not very well. My father, who taught me, is away, and I don't get on ver_ast alone, for I've no one to correct my pronunciation."
"Try a little now. Here is Schiller's Mary Stuart and a tutor who loves t_each." And Mr. Brooke laid his book on her lap with an inviting smile.
"It's so hard I'm afraid to try," said Meg, grateful, but bashful in th_resence of the accomplished young lady beside her.
"I'll read a bit to encourage you." And Miss Kate read one of the mos_eautiful passages in a perfectly correct but perfectly expressionless manner.
Mr. Brooke made no comment as she returned the book to Meg, who sai_nnocently, "I thought it was poetry."
"Some of it is. Try this passage."
There was a queer smile about Mr. Brooke's mouth as he opened at poor Mary'_ament.
Meg obediently following the long grass-blade which her new tutor used t_oint with, read slowly and timidly, unconsciously making poetry of the har_ords by the soft intonation of her musical voice. Down the page went th_reen guide, and presently, forgetting her listener in the beauty of the sa_cene, Meg read as if alone, giving a little touch of tragedy to the words o_he unhappy queen. If she had seen the brown eyes then, she would have stoppe_hort, but she never looked up, and the lesson was not spoiled for her.
"Very well indeed!" said Mr. Brooke, as she paused, quite ignoring her man_istakes, and looking as if he did indeed love to teach.
Miss Kate put up her glass, and, having taken a survey of the little tablea_efore her, shut her sketch book, saying with condescension, "You've a nic_ccent and in time will be a clever reader. I advise you to learn, for Germa_s a valuable accomplishment to teachers. I must look after Grace, she i_omping." And Miss Kate strolled away, adding to herself with a shrug, "_idn't come to chaperone a governess, though she is young and pretty. What od_eople these Yankees are. I'm afraid Laurie will be quite spoiled among them."
"I forgot that English people rather turn up their noses at governesses an_on't treat them as we do," said Meg, looking after the retreating figure wit_n annoyed expression.
"Tutors also have rather a hard time of it there, as I know to my sorrow.
There's no place like America for us workers, Miss Margaret." And Mr. Brook_ooked so contented and cheerful that Meg was ashamed to lament her hard lot.
"I'm glad I live in it then. I don't like my work, but I get a good deal o_atisfaction out of it after all, so I won't complain. I only wished I like_eaching as you do."
"I think you would if you had Laurie for a pupil. I shall be very sorry t_ose him next year," said Mr. Brooke, busily punching holes in the turf.
"Going to college, I suppose?" Meg's lips asked the question, but her eye_dded, "And what becomes of you?"
"Yes, it's high time he went, for he is ready, and as soon as he is off, _hall turn soldier. I am needed."
"I am glad of that!" exclaimed Meg. "I should think every young man would wan_o go, though it is hard for the mothers and sisters who stay at home," sh_dded sorrowfully.
"I have neither, and very few friends to care whether I live or die," said Mr.
Brooke rather bitterly as he absently put the dead rose in the hole he ha_ade and covered it up, like a little grave.
"Laurie and his grandfather would care a great deal, and we should all be ver_orry to have any harm happen to you," said Meg heartily.
"Thank you, that sounds pleasant," began Mr. Brooke, looking cheerful again, but before he could finish his speech, Ned, mounted on the old horse, cam_umbering up to display his equestrian skill before the young ladies, an_here was no more quiet that day.
"Don't you love to ride?" asked Grace of Amy, as they stood resting after _ace round the field with the others, led by Ned.
"I dote upon it. My sister, Meg, used to ride when Papa was rich, but we don'_eep any horses now, except Ellen Tree," added Amy, laughing.
"Tell me about Ellen Tree. Is it a donkey?" asked Grace curiously.
"Why, you see, Jo is crazy about horses and so am I, but we've only got an ol_idesaddle and no horse. Out in our garden is an apple tree that has a nic_ow branch, so Jo put the saddle on it, fixed some reins on the part tha_urns up, and we bounce away on Ellen Tree whenever we like."
"How funny!" laughed Grace. "I have a pony at home, and ride nearly every da_n the park with Fred and Kate. It's very nice, for my friends go too, and th_ow is full of ladies and gentlemen."
"Dear, how charming! I hope I shall go abroad some day, but I'd rather go t_ome than the Row," said Amy, who had not the remotest idea what the Row wa_nd wouldn't have asked for the world.
Frank, sitting just behind the little girls, heard what they were saying, an_ushed his crutch away from him with an impatient gesture as he watched th_ctive lads going through all sorts of comical gymnastics. Beth, who wa_ollecting the scattered Author cards, looked up and said, in her shy ye_riendly way, "I'm afraid you are tired. Can I do anything for you?"
"Talk to me, please. It's dull, sitting by myself," answered Frank, who ha_vidently been used to being made much of at home.
If he asked her to deliver a Latin oration, it would not have seemed a mor_mpossible task to bashful Beth, but there was no place to run to, no Jo t_ide behind now, and the poor boy looked so wistfully at her that she bravel_esolved to try.
"What do you like to talk about?" she asked, fumbling over the cards an_ropping half as she tried to tie them up.
"Well, I like to hear about cricket and boating and hunting," said Frank, wh_ad not yet learned to suit his amusements to his strength.
My heart! What shall I do? I don't know anything about them, thought Beth, an_orgetting the boy's misfortune in her flurry, she said, hoping to make hi_alk, "I never saw any hunting, but I suppose you know all about it."
"I did once, but I can never hunt again, for I got hurt leaping a confounde_ive-barred gate, so there are no more horses and hounds for me," said Fran_ith a sigh that made Beth hate herself for her innocent blunder.
"Your deer are much prettier than our ugly buffaloes," she said, turning t_he prairies for help and feeling glad that she had read one of the boys'
books in which Jo delighted.
Buffaloes proved soothing and satisfactory, and in her eagerness to amus_nother, Beth forgot herself, and was quite unconscious of her sisters'
surprise and delight at the unusual spectacle of Beth talking away to one o_he dreadful boys, against whom she had begged protection.
"Bless her heart! She pities him, so she is good to him," said Jo, beaming a_er from the croquet ground.
"I always said she was a little saint," added Meg, as if there could be n_urther doubt of it.
"I haven't heard Frank laugh so much for ever so long," said Grace to Amy, a_hey sat discussing dolls and making tea sets out of the acorn cups.
"My sister Beth is a very fastidious girl, when she likes to be," said Amy, well pleased at Beth's success. She meant 'facinating', but as Grace didn'_now the exact meaning of either word, fastidious sounded well and made a goo_mpression.
An impromptu circus, fox and geese, and an amicable game of croquet finishe_he afternoon. At sunset the tent was struck, hampers packed, wickets pulle_p, boats loaded, and the whole party floated down the river, singing at th_ops of their voices. Ned, getting sentimental, warbled a serenade with th_ensive refrain…
> Alone, alone, ah! Woe, alone,
and at the lines…
> We each are young, we each have a heart, > Oh, why should we stand thus coldly apart?
he looked at Meg with such a lackadiasical expression that she laughe_utright and spoiled his song.
"How can you be so cruel to me?" he whispered, under cover of a lively chorus.
"You've kept close to that starched-up Englishwoman all day, and now you snu_e."
"I didn't mean to, but you looked so funny I really couldn't help it," replie_eg, passing over the first part of his reproach, for it was quite true tha_he had shunned him, remembering the Moffat party and the talk after it.
Ned was offended and turned to Sallie for consolation, saying to her rathe_ettishly, "There isn't a bit of flirt in that girl, is there?"
"Not a particle, but she's a dear," returned Sallie, defending her friend eve_hile confessing her shortcomings.
"She's not a stricken deer anyway," said Ned, trying to be witty, an_ucceeding as well as very young gentlemen usually do.
On the lawn where it had gathered, the little party separated with cordia_ood nights and good-bys, for the Vaughns were going to Canada. As the fou_isters went home through the garden, Miss Kate looked after them, saying, without the patronizing tone in her voice, "In spite of their demonstrativ_anners, American girls are very nice when one knows them."