For a year Jo and her Professor worked and waited, hoped and loved, me_ccasionally, and wrote such voluminous letters that the rise in the price o_aper was accounted for, Laurie said. The second year began rather soberly, for their prospects did not brighten, and Aunt March died suddenly. But whe_heir first sorrow was over—for they loved the old lady in spite of her shar_ongue—they found they had cause for rejoicing, for she had left Plumfield t_o, which made all sorts of joyful things possible.
"It's a fine old place, and will bring a handsome sum, for of course yo_ntend to sell it," said Laurie, as they were all talking the matter over som_eeks later.
"No, I don't," was Jo's decided answer, as she petted the fat poodle, whom sh_ad adopted, out of respect to his former mistress.
"You don't mean to live there?"
"Yes, I do."
"But, my dear girl, it's an immense house, and will take a power of money t_eep it in order. The garden and orchard alone need two or three men, an_arming isn't in Bhaer's line, I take it."
"He'll try his hand at it there, if I propose it."
"And you expect to live on the produce of the place? Well, that sound_aradisiacal, but you'll find it desperate hard work."
"The crop we are going to raise is a profitable one," and Jo laughed.
"Of what is this fine crop to consist, ma'am?"
"Boys. I want to open a school for little lads—a good, happy, homelike school, with me to take care of them and Fritz to teach them."
"That's a truly Joian plan for you! Isn't that just like her?" cried Laurie, appealing to the family, who looked as much surprised as he.
"I like it," said Mrs. March decidedly.
"So do I," added her husband, who welcomed the thought of a chance for tryin_he Socratic method of education on modern youth.
"It will be an immense care for Jo," said Meg, stroking the head of her on_ll-absorbing son.
"Jo can do it, and be happy in it. It's a splendid idea. Tell us all abou_t," cried Mr. Laurence, who had been longing to lend the lovers a hand, bu_new that they would refuse his help.
"I knew you'd stand by me, sir. Amy does too—I see it in her eyes, though sh_rudently waits to turn it over in her mind before she speaks. Now, my dea_eople," continued Jo earnestly, "just understand that this isn't a new ide_f mine, but a long cherished plan. Before my Fritz came, I used to think how, when I'd made my fortune, and no one needed me at home, I'd hire a big house, and pick up some poor, forlorn little lads who hadn't any mothers, and tak_are of them, and make life jolly for them before it was too late. I see s_any going to ruin for want of help at the right minute, I love so to d_nything for them, I seem to feel their wants, and sympathize with thei_roubles, and oh, I should so like to be a mother to them!"
Mrs. March held out her hand to Jo, who took it, smiling, with tears in he_yes, and went on in the old enthusiastic way, which they had not seen for _ong while.
"I told my plan to Fritz once, and he said it was just what he would like, an_greed to try it when we got rich. Bless his dear heart, he's been doing i_ll his life—helping poor boys, I mean, not getting rich, that he'll never be.
Money doesn't stay in his pocket long enough to lay up any. But now, thanks t_y good old aunt, who loved me better than I ever deserved, I'm rich, at leas_ feel so, and we can live at Plumfield perfectly well, if we have _lourishing school. It's just the place for boys, the house is big, and th_urniture strong and plain. There's plenty of room for dozens inside, an_plendid grounds outside. They could help in the garden and orchard. Such wor_s healthy, isn't it, sir? Then Fritz could train and teach in his own way, and Father will help him. I can feed and nurse and pet and scold them, an_other will be my stand-by. I've always longed for lots of boys, and never ha_nough, now I can fill the house full and revel in the little dears to m_eart's content. Think what luxury— Plumfield my own, and a wilderness of boy_o enjoy it with me."
As Jo waved her hands and gave a sigh of rapture, the family went off into _ale of merriment, and Mr. Laurence laughed till they thought he'd have a_poplectic fit.
"I don't see anything funny," she said gravely, when she could be heard.
"Nothing could be more natural and proper than for my Professor to open _chool, and for me to prefer to reside in my own estate."
"She is putting on airs already," said Laurie, who regarded the idea in th_ight of a capital joke. "But may I inquire how you intend to support th_stablishment? If all the pupils are little ragamuffins, I'm afraid your cro_on't be profitable in a worldly sense, Mrs. Bhaer."
"Now don't be a wet-blanket, Teddy. Of course I shall have rich pupils, also—perhaps begin with such altogether. Then, when I've got a start, I ca_ake in a ragamuffin or two, just for a relish. Rich people's children ofte_eed care and comfort, as well as poor. I've seen unfortunate little creature_eft to servants, or backward ones pushed forward, when it's real cruelty.
Some are naughty through mismanagment or neglect, and some lose their mothers.
Besides, the best have to get through the hobbledehoy age, and that's the ver_ime they need most patience and kindness. People laugh at them, and hustl_hem about, try to keep them out of sight, and expect them to turn all at onc_rom pretty children into fine young men. They don't complain much—pluck_ittle souls—but they feel it. I've been through something of it, and I kno_ll about it. I've a special interest in such young bears, and like to sho_hem that I see the warm, honest, well-meaning boys' hearts, in spite of th_lumsy arms and legs and the topsy-turvy heads. I've had experience, too, fo_aven't I brought up one boy to be a pride and honor to his family?"
"I'll testify that you tried to do it," said Laurie with a grateful look.
"And I've succeeded beyond my hopes, for here you are, a steady, sensibl_usinessman, doing heaps of good with your money, and laying up the blessing_f the poor, instead of dollars. But you are not merely a businessman, yo_ove good and beautiful things, enjoy them yourself, and let others go halves, as you always did in the old times. I am proud of you, Teddy, for you ge_etter every year, and everyone feels it, though you won't let them say so.
Yes, and when I have my flock, I'll just point to you, and say 'There's you_odel, my lads'."
Poor Laurie didn't know where to look, for, man though he was, something o_he old bashfulness came over him as this burst of praise made all faces tur_pprovingly upon him.
"I say, Jo, that's rather too much," he began, just in his old boyish way.
"You have all done more for me than I can ever thank you for, except by doin_y best not to disappoint you. You have rather cast me off lately, Jo, bu_'ve had the best of help, nevertheless. So, if I've got on at all, you ma_hank these two for it," and he laid one hand gently on his grandfather'_ead, and the other on Amy's golden one, for the three were never far apart.
"I do think that families are the most beautiful things in all the world!"
burst out Jo, who was in an unusually up-lifted frame of mind just then. "Whe_ have one of my own, I hope it will be as happy as the three I know and lov_he best. If John and my Fritz were only here, it would be quite a littl_eaven on earth," she added more quietly. And that night when she went to he_oom after a blissful evening of family counsels, hopes, and plans, her hear_as so full of happiness that she could only calm it by kneeling beside th_mpty bed always near her own, and thinking tender thoughts of Beth.
It was a very astonishing year altogether, for things seemed to happen in a_nusually rapid and delightful manner. Almost before she knew where she was, Jo found herself married and settled at Plumfield. Then a family of six o_even boys sprung up like mushrooms, and flourished surprisingly, poor boys a_ell as rich, for Mr. Laurence was continually finding some touching case o_estitution, and begging the Bhaers to take pity on the child, and he woul_ladly pay a trifle for its support. In this way, the sly old gentleman go_ound proud Jo, and furnished her with the style of boy in which she mos_elighted.
Of course it was uphill work at first, and Jo made queer mistakes, but th_ise Professor steered her safely into calmer waters, and the most rampan_agamuffin was conquered in the end. How Jo did enjoy her 'wilderness o_oys', and how poor, dear Aunt March would have lamented had she been there t_ee the sacred precincts of prim, well-ordered Plumfield overrun with Toms, Dicks, and Harrys! There was a sort of poetic justice about it, after all, fo_he old lady had been the terror of the boys for miles around, and now th_xiles feasted freely on forbidden plums, kicked up the gravel with profan_oots unreproved, and played cricket in the big field where the irritable 'co_ith a crumpled horn' used to invite rash youths to come and be tossed. I_ecame a sort of boys' paradise, and Laurie suggested that it should be calle_he 'Bhaer-garten', as a compliment to its master and appropriate to it_nhabitants.
It never was a fashionable school, and the Professor did not lay up a fortune, but it was just what Jo intended it to be—'a happy, homelike place for boys, who needed teaching, care, and kindness'. Every room in the big house was soo_ull. Every little plot in the garden soon had its owner. A regular menageri_ppeared in barn and shed, for pet animals were allowed. And three times _ay, Jo smiled at her Fritz from the head of a long table lined on either sid_ith rows of happy young faces, which all turned to her with affectionat_yes, confiding words, and grateful hearts, full of love for 'Mother Bhaer'.
She had boys enough now, and did not tire of them, though they were no_ngels, by any means, and some of them caused both Professor and Professori_uch trouble and anxiety. But her faith in the good spot which exists in th_eart of the naughtiest, sauciest, most tantalizing little ragamuffin gave he_atience, skill, and in time success, for no mortal boy could hold out lon_ith Father Bhaer shining on him as benevolently as the sun, and Mother Bhae_orgiving him seventy times seven. Very precious to Jo was the friendship o_he lads, their penitent sniffs and whispers after wrongdoing, their droll o_ouching little confidences, their pleasant enthusiasms, hopes, and plans, even their misfortunes, for they only endeared them to her all the more. Ther_ere slow boys and bashful boys, feeble boys and riotous boys, boys tha_isped and boys that stuttered, one or two lame ones, and a merry littl_uadroon, who could not be taken in elsewhere, but who was welcome to the
'Bhaer-garten', though some people predicted that his admission would ruin th_chool.
Yes, Jo was a very happy woman there, in spite of hard work, much anxiety, an_ perpetual racket. She enjoyed it heartily and found the applause of her boy_ore satisfying than any praise of the world, for now she told no storie_xcept to her flock of enthusiastic believers and admirers. As the years wen_n, two little lads of her own came to increase her happiness—Rob, named fo_randpa, and Teddy, a happy-go-lucky baby, who seemed to have inherited hi_apa's sunshiny temper as well as his mother's lively spirit. How they eve_rew up alive in that whirlpool of boys was a mystery to their grandma an_unts, but they flourished like dandelions in spring, and their rough nurse_oved and served them well.
There were a great many holidays at Plumfield, and one of the most delightfu_as the yearly apple-picking. For then the Marches, Laurences, Brookes an_haers turned out in full force and made a day of it. Five years after Jo'_edding, one of these fruitful festivals occurred, a mellow October day, whe_he air was full of an exhilarating freshness which made the spirits rise an_he blood dance healthily in the veins. The old orchard wore its holida_ttire. Goldenrod and asters fringed the mossy walls. Grasshoppers skippe_riskly in the sere grass, and crickets chirped like fairy pipers at a feast.
Squirrels were busy with their small harvesting. Birds twittered their adieu_rom the alders in the lane, and every tree stood ready to send down it_hower of red or yellow apples at the first shake. Everybody was there.
Everybody laughed and sang, climbed up and tumbled down. Everybody declare_hat there never had been such a perfect day or such a jolly set to enjoy it, and everyone gave themselves up to the simple pleasures of the hour as freel_s if there were no such things as care or sorrow in the world.
Mr. March strolled placidly about, quoting Tusser, Cowley, and Columella t_r. Laurence, while enjoying…
The gentle apple's winey juice.
The Professor charged up and down the green aisles like a stout Teutoni_night, with a pole for a lance, leading on the boys, who made a hook an_adder company of themselves, and performed wonders in the way of ground an_ofty tumbling. Laurie devoted himself to the little ones, rode his smal_aughter in a bushel-basket, took Daisy up among the bird's nests, and kep_dventurous Rob from breaking his neck. Mrs. March and Meg sat among the appl_iles like a pair of Pomonas, sorting the contributions that kept pouring in, while Amy with a beautiful motherly expression in her face sketched th_arious groups, and watched over one pale lad, who sat adoring her with hi_ittle crutch beside him.
Jo was in her element that day, and rushed about, with her gown pinned up, an_er hat anywhere but on her head, and her baby tucked under her arm, ready fo_ny lively adventure which might turn up. Little Teddy bore a charmed life, for nothing ever happened to him, and Jo never felt any anxiety when he wa_hisked up into a tree by one lad, galloped off on the back of another, o_upplied with sour russets by his indulgent papa, who labored under th_ermanic delusion that babies could digest anything, from pickled cabbage t_uttons, nails, and their own small shoes. She knew that little Ted would tur_p again in time, safe and rosy, dirty and serene, and she always received hi_ack with a hearty welcome, for Jo loved her babies tenderly.
At four o'clock a lull took place, and baskets remained empty, while the appl_ickers rested and compared rents and bruises. Then Jo and Meg, with _etachment of the bigger boys, set forth the supper on the grass, for an out- of-door tea was always the crowning joy of the day. The land literally flowe_ith milk and honey on such occasions, for the lads were not required to si_t table, but allowed to partake of refreshment as they liked—freedom bein_he sauce best beloved by the boyish soul. They availed themselves of the rar_rivilege to the fullest extent, for some tried the pleasing experiment o_rinking milk while standing on their heads, others lent a charm to leapfro_y eating pie in the pauses of the game, cookies were sown broadcast over th_ield, and apple turnovers roosted in the trees like a new style of bird. Th_ittle girls had a private tea party, and Ted roved among the edibles at hi_wn sweet will.
When no one could eat any more, the Professor proposed the first regula_oast, which was always drunk at such times—"Aunt March, God bless her!" _oast heartily given by the good man, who never forgot how much he owed her, and quietly drunk by the boys, who had been taught to keep her memory green.
"Now, Grandma's sixtieth birthday! Long life to her, with three times three!"
That was given with a will, as you may well believe, and the cheering onc_egun, it was hard to stop it. Everybody's health was proposed, from Mr.
Laurence, who was considered their special patron, to the astonished guine_ig, who had strayed from its proper sphere in search of its young master.
Demi, as the oldest grandchild, then presented the queen of the day wit_arious gifts, so numerous that they were transported to the festive scene i_ wheelbarrow. Funny presents, some of them, but what would have been defect_o other eyes were ornaments to Grandma's—for the children's gifts were al_heir own. Every stitch Daisy's patient little fingers had put into th_andkerchiefs she hemmed was better than embroidery to Mrs. March. Demi'_iracle of mechanical skill, though the cover wouldn't shut, Rob's footstoo_ad a wiggle in its uneven legs that she declared was soothing, and no page o_he costly book Amy's child gave her was so fair as that on which appeared i_ipsy capitals, the words—"To dear Grandma, from her little Beth."
During the ceremony the boys had mysteriously disappeared, and when Mrs. Marc_ad tried to thank her children, and broken down, while Teddy wiped her eye_n his pinafore, the Professor suddenly began to sing. Then, from above him, voice after voice took up the words, and from tree to tree echoed the music o_he unseen choir, as the boys sang with all their hearts the little song tha_o had written, Laurie set to music, and the Professor trained his lads t_ive with the best effect. This was something altogether new, and it proved _rand success, for Mrs. March couldn't get over her surprise, and insisted o_haking hands with every one of the featherless birds, from tall Franz an_mil to the little quadroon, who had the sweetest voice of all.
After this, the boys dispersed for a final lark, leaving Mrs. March and he_aughters under the festival tree.
"I don't think I ever ought to call myself 'unlucky Jo' again, when m_reatest wish has been so beautifully gratified," said Mrs. Bhaer, takin_eddy's little fist out of the milk pitcher, in which he was rapturousl_hurning.
"And yet your life is very different from the one you pictured so long ago. D_ou remember our castles in the air?" asked Amy, smiling as she watched Lauri_nd John playing cricket with the boys.
"Dear fellows! It does my heart good to see them forget business and froli_or a day," answered Jo, who now spoke in a maternal way of all mankind. "Yes, I remember, but the life I wanted then seems selfish, lonely, and cold to m_ow. I haven't given up the hope that I may write a good book yet, but I ca_ait, and I'm sure it will be all the better for such experiences an_llustrations as these," and Jo pointed from the lively lads in the distanc_o her father, leaning on the Professor's arm, as they walked to and fro i_he sunshine, deep in one of the conversations which both enjoyed so much, an_hen to her mother, sitting enthroned among her daughters, with their childre_n her lap and at her feet, as if all found help and happiness in the fac_hich never could grow old to them.
"My castle was the most nearly realized of all. I asked for splendid things, to be sure, but in my heart I knew I should be satisfied, if I had a littl_ome, and John, and some dear children like these. I've got them all, than_od, and am the happiest woman in the world," and Meg laid her hand on he_all boy's head, with a face full of tender and devout content.
"My castle is very different from what I planned, but I would not alter it, though, like Jo, I don't relinquish all my artistic hopes, or confine mysel_o helping others fulfill their dreams of beauty. I've begun to model a figur_f baby, and Laurie says it is the best thing I've ever done. I think so, myself, and mean to do it in marble, so that, whatever happens, I may at leas_eep the image of my little angel."
As Amy spoke, a great tear dropped on the golden hair of the sleeping child i_er arms, for her one well-beloved daughter was a frail little creature an_he dread of losing her was the shadow over Amy's sunshine. This cross wa_oing much for both father and mother, for one love and sorrow bound the_losely together. Amy's nature was growing sweeter, deeper, and more tender.
Laurie was growing more serious, strong, and firm, and both were learning tha_eauty, youth, good fortune, even love itself, cannot keep care and pain, los_nd sorrow, from the most blessed for …
> Into each life some rain must fall, > Some days must be dark and sad and dreary.
"She is growing better, I am sure of it, my dear. Don't despond, but hope an_eep happy," said Mrs. March, as tenderhearted Daisy stooped from her knee t_ay her rosy cheek against her little cousin's pale one.
"I never ought to, while I have you to cheer me up, Marmee, and Laurie to tak_ore than half of every burden," replied Amy warmly. "He never lets me see hi_nxiety, but is so sweet and patient with me, so devoted to Beth, and such _tay and comfort to me always that I can't love him enough. So, in spite of m_ne cross, I can say with Meg, 'Thank God, I'm a happy woman.'"
"There's no need for me to say it, for everyone can see that I'm far happie_han I deserve," added Jo, glancing from her good husband to her chubb_hildren, tumbling on the grass beside her. "Fritz is getting gray and stout.
I'm growing as thin as a shadow, and am thirty. We never shall be rich, an_lumfield may burn up any night, for that incorrigible Tommy Bangs will smok_weet-fern cigars under the bed-clothes, though he's set himself afire thre_imes already. But in spite of these unromantic facts, I have nothing t_omplain of, and never was so jolly in my life. Excuse the remark, but livin_mong boys, I can't help using their expressions now and then."
"Yes, Jo, I think your harvest will be a good one," began Mrs. March, frightening away a big black cricket that was staring Teddy out o_ountenance.
"Not half so good as yours, Mother. Here it is, and we never can thank yo_nough for the patient sowing and reaping you have done," cried Jo, with th_oving impetuosity which she never would outgrow.
"I hope there will be more wheat and fewer tares every year," said Amy softly.
"A large sheaf, but I know there's room in your heart for it, Marmee dear,"
added Meg's tender voice.
Touched to the heart, Mrs. March could only stretch out her arms, as if t_ather children and grandchildren to herself, and say, with face and voic_ull of motherly love, gratitude, and humility…
"Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never can wish you a greate_appiness than this!"