I don't think I have any words in which to tell the meeting of the mother an_aughters. Such hours are beautiful to live, but very hard to describe, so _ill leave it to the imagination of my readers, merely saying that the hous_as full of genuine happiness, and that Meg's tender hope was realized, fo_hen Beth woke from that long, healing sleep, the first objects on which he_yes fell were the little rose and Mother's face. Too weak to wonder a_nything, she only smiled and nestled close in the loving arms about her, feeling that the hungry longing was satisfied at last. Then she slept again, and the girls waited upon their mother, for she would not unclasp the thi_and which clung to hers even in sleep.
Hannah had 'dished up' an astonishing breakfast for the traveler, finding i_mpossible to vent her excitement in any other way, and Meg and Jo fed thei_other like dutiful young storks, while they listened to her whispered accoun_f Father's state, Mr. Brooke's promise to stay and nurse him, the delay_hich the storm occasioned on the homeward journey, and the unspeakabl_omfort Laurie's hopeful face had given her when she arrived, worn out wit_atigue, anxiety, and cold.
What a strange yet pleasant day that was. So brilliant and gay without, fo_ll the world seemed abroad to welcome the first snow. So quiet and reposefu_ithin, for everyone slept, spent with watching, and a Sabbath stillnes_eigned through the house, while nodding Hannah mounted guard at the door.
With a blissful sense of burdens lifted off, Meg and Jo closed their wear_yes, and lay at rest, like storm-beaten boats safe at anchor in a quie_arbor. Mrs. March would not leave Beth's side, but rested in the big chair, waking often to look at, touch, and brood over her child, like a miser ove_ome recovered treasure.
Laurie meanwhile posted off to comfort Amy, and told his story so well tha_unt March actually 'sniffed' herself, and never once said "I told you so".
Amy came out so strong on this occasion that I think the good thoughts in th_ittle chapel really began to bear fruit. She dried her tears quickly, restrained her impatience to see her mother, and never even thought of th_urquoise ring, when the old lady heartily agreed in Laurie's opinion, tha_he behaved 'like a capital little woman'. Even Polly seemed impressed, for h_alled her a good girl, blessed her buttons, and begged her to "come and tak_ walk, dear", in his most affable tone. She would very gladly have gone ou_o enjoy the bright wintry weather, but discovering that Laurie was droppin_ith sleep in spite of manful efforts to conceal the fact, she persuaded hi_o rest on the sofa, while she wrote a note to her mother. She was a long tim_bout it, and when she returned, he was stretched out with both arms under hi_ead, sound asleep, while Aunt March had pulled down the curtains and sa_oing nothing in an unusual fit of benignity.
After a while, they began to think he was not going to wake up till night, an_'m not sure that he would, had he not been effectually roused by Amy's cry o_oy at sight of her mother. There probably were a good many happy little girl_n and about the city that day, but it is my private opinion that Amy was th_appiest of all, when she sat in her mother's lap and told her trials, receiving consolation and compensation in the shape of approving smiles an_ond caresses. They were alone together in the chapel, to which her mother di_ot object when its purpose was explained to her.
"On the contrary, I like it very much, dear," looking from the dusty rosary t_he well-worn little book, and the lovely picture with its garland o_vergreen. "It is an excellent plan to have some place where we can go to b_uiet, when things vex or grieve us. There are a good many hard times in thi_ife of ours, but we can always bear them if we ask help in the right way. _hink my little girl is learning this."
"Yes, Mother, and when I go home I mean to have a corner in the big closet t_ut my books and the copy of that picture which I've tried to make. Th_oman's face is not good, it's too beautiful for me to draw, but the baby i_one better, and I love it very much. I like to think He was a little chil_nce, for then I don't seem so far away, and that helps me."
As Amy pointed to the smiling Christ child on his Mother's knee, Mrs. Marc_aw something on the lifted hand that made her smile. She said nothing, bu_my understood the look, and after a minute's pause, she added gravely, "_anted to speak to you about this, but I forgot it. Aunt gave me the rin_oday. She called me to her and kissed me, and put it on my finger, and said _as a credit to her, and she'd like to keep me always. She gave that funn_uard to keep the turquoise on, as it's too big. I'd like to wear them Mother, can I?"
"They are very pretty, but I think you're rather too young for such ornaments, Amy," said Mrs. March, looking at the plump little hand, with the band of sky- blue stones on the forefinger, and the quaint guard formed of two tiny golde_ands clasped together.
"I'll try not to be vain," said Amy. "I don't think I like it only becaus_t's so pretty, but I want to wear it as the girl in the story wore he_racelet, to remind me of something."
"Do you mean Aunt March?" asked her mother, laughing.
"No, to remind me not to be selfish." Amy looked so earnest and sincere abou_t that her mother stopped laughing, and listened respectfully to the littl_lan.
"I've thought a great deal lately about my 'bundle of naughties', and bein_elfish is the largest one in it, so I'm going to try hard to cure it, if _an. Beth isn't selfish, and that's the reason everyone loves her and feels s_ad at the thoughts of losing her. People wouldn't feel so bad about me if _as sick, and I don't deserve to have them, but I'd like to be loved an_issed by a great many friends, so I'm going to try and be like Beth all _an. I'm apt to forget my resolutions, but if I had something always about m_o remind me, I guess I should do better. May we try this way?"
"Yes, but I have more faith in the corner of the big closet. Wear your ring, dear, and do your best. I think you will prosper, for the sincere wish to b_ood is half the battle. Now I must go back to Beth. Keep up your heart, little daughter, and we will soon have you home again."
That evening while Meg was writing to her father to report the traveler's saf_rrival, Jo slipped upstairs into Beth's room, and finding her mother in he_sual place, stood a minute twisting her fingers in her hair, with a worrie_esture and an undecided look.
"What is it, deary?" asked Mrs. March, holding out her hand, with a face whic_nvited confidence.
"I want to tell you something, Mother."
"How quickly you guessed! Yes, it's about her, and though it's a little thing, it fidgets me."
"Beth is asleep. Speak low, and tell me all about it. That Moffat hasn't bee_ere, I hope?" asked Mrs. March rather sharply.
"No. I should have shut the door in his face if he had," said Jo, settlin_erself on the floor at her mother's feet. "Last summer Meg left a pair o_loves over at the Laurences' and only one was returned. We forgot about it, till Teddy told me that Mr. Brooke owned that he liked Meg but didn't dare sa_o, she was so young and he so poor. Now, isn't it a dreadful state o_hings?"
"Do you think Meg cares for him?" asked Mrs. March, with an anxious look.
"Mercy me! I don't know anything about love and such nonsense!" cried Jo, wit_ funny mixture of interest and contempt. "In novels, the girls show it b_tarting and blushing, fainting away, growing thin, and acting like fools. No_eg does not do anything of the sort. She eats and drinks and sleeps like _ensible creature, she looks straight in my face when I talk about that man, and only blushes a little bit when Teddy jokes about lovers. I forbid him t_o it, but he doesn't mind me as he ought."
"Then you fancy that Meg is not interested in John?"
"Who?" cried Jo, staring.
"Mr. Brooke. I call him 'John' now. We fell into the way of doing so at th_ospital, and he likes it."
"Oh, dear! I know you'll take his part. He's been good to Father, and yo_on't send him away, but let Meg marry him, if she wants to. Mean thing! To g_etting Papa and helping you, just to wheedle you into liking him." And J_ulled her hair again with a wrathful tweak.
"My dear, don't get angry about it, and I will tell you how it happened. Joh_ent with me at Mr. Laurence's request, and was so devoted to poor Father tha_e couldn't help getting fond of him. He was perfectly open and honorabl_bout Meg, for he told us he loved her, but would earn a comfortable hom_efore he asked her to marry him. He only wanted our leave to love her an_ork for her, and the right to make her love him if he could. He is a trul_xcellent young man, and we could not refuse to listen to him, but I will no_onsent to Meg's engaging herself so young."
"Of course not. It would be idiotic! I knew there was mischief brewing. I fel_t, and now it's worse than I imagined. I just wish I could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in the family."
This odd arrangement made Mrs. March smile, but she said gravely, "Jo, _onfide in you and don't wish you to say anything to Meg yet. When John come_ack, and I see them together, I can judge better of her feelings toward him."
"She'll see those handsome eyes that she talks about, and then it will be al_p with her. She's got such a soft heart, it will melt like butter in the su_f anyone looks sentimentlly at her. She read the short reports he sent mor_han she did your letters, and pinched me when I spoke of it, and likes brow_yes, and doesn't think John an ugly name, and she'll go and fall in love, an_here's an end of peace and fun, and cozy times together. I see it all!
They'll go lovering around the house, and we shall have to dodge. Meg will b_bsorbed and no good to me any more. Brooke will scratch up a fortune somehow, carry her off, and make a hole in the family, and I shall break my heart, an_verything will be abominably uncomfortable. Oh, dear me! Why weren't we al_oys, then there wouldn't be any bother."
Jo leaned her chin on her knees in a disconsolate attitude and shook her fis_t the reprehensible John. Mrs. March sighed, and Jo looked up with an air o_elief.
"You don't like it, Mother? I'm glad of it. Let's send him about his business, and not tell Meg a word of it, but all be happy together as we always hav_een."
"I did wrong to sigh, Jo. It is natural and right you should all go to home_f your own in time, but I do want to keep my girls as long as I can, and I a_orry that this happened so soon, for Meg is only seventeen and it will b_ome years before John can make a home for her. Your father and I have agree_hat she shall not bind herself in any way, nor be married, before twenty. I_he and John love one another, they can wait, and test the love by doing so.
She is conscientious, and I have no fear of her treating him unkindly. M_retty, tender hearted girl! I hope things will go happily with her."
"Hadn't you rather have her marry a rich man?" asked Jo, as her mother's voic_altered a little over the last words.
"Money is a good and useful thing, Jo, and I hope my girls will never feel th_eed of it too bitterly, nor be tempted by too much. I should like to kno_hat John was firmly established in some good business, which gave him a_ncome large enough to keep free from debt and make Meg comfortable. I'm no_mbitious for a splendid fortune, a fashionable position, or a great name fo_y girls. If rank and money come with love and virtue, also, I should accep_hem gratefully, and enjoy your good fortune, but I know, by experience, ho_uch genuine happiness can be had in a plain little house, where the dail_read is earned, and some privations give sweetness to the few pleasures. I a_ontent to see Meg begin humbly, for if I am not mistaken, she will be rich i_he possession of a good man's heart, and that is better than a fortune."
"I understand, Mother, and quite agree, but I'm disappointed about Meg, fo_'d planned to have her marry Teddy by-and-by and sit in the lap of luxury al_er days. Wouldn't it be nice?" asked Jo, looking up with a brighter face.
"He is younger than she, you know," began Mrs. March, but Jo broke in…
"Only a little, he's old for his age, and tall, and can be quite grown-up i_is manners if he likes. Then he's rich and generous and good, and loves u_ll, and I say it's a pity my plan is spoiled."
"I'm afraid Laurie is hardly grown-up enough for Meg, and altogether too muc_f a weathercock just now for anyone to depend on. Don't make plans, Jo, bu_et time and their own hearts mate your friends. We can't meddle safely i_uch matters, and had better not get 'romantic rubbish' as you call it, int_ur heads, lest it spoil our friendship."
"Well, I won't, but I hate to see things going all crisscross and gettin_narled up, when a pull here and a snip there would straighten it out. I wis_earing flatirons on our heads would keep us from growing up. But buds will b_oses, and kittens cats, more's the pity!"
"What's that about flatirons and cats?" asked Meg, as she crept into the roo_ith the finished letter in her hand.
"Only one of my stupid speeches. I'm going to bed. Come, Peggy," said Jo, unfolding herself like an animated puzzle.
"Quite right, and beautifully written. Please add that I send my love t_ohn," said Mrs. March, as she glanced over the letter and gave it back.
"Do you call him 'John'?" asked Meg, smiling, with her innocent eyes lookin_own into her mother's.
"Yes, he has been like a son to us, and we are very fond of him," replied Mrs.
March, returning the look with a keen one.
"I'm glad of that, he is so lonely. Good night, Mother, dear. It is s_nexpressibly comfortable to have you here," was Meg's answer.
The kiss her mother gave her was a very tender one, and as she went away, Mrs.
March said, with a mixture of satisfaction and regret, "She does not love Joh_et, but will soon learn to."