"Jo! Jo! Where are you?" cried Meg at the foot of the garret stairs.
"Here!" answered a husky voice from above, and, running up, Meg found he_ister eating apples and crying over the Heir of Redclyffe, wrapped up in _omforter on an old three-legged sofa by the sunny window. This was Jo'_avorite refuge, and here she loved to retire with half a dozen russets and _ice book, to enjoy the quiet and the society of a pet rat who lived near b_nd didn't mind her a particle. As Meg appeared, Scrabble whisked into hi_ole. Jo shook the tears off her cheeks and waited to hear the news.
"Such fun! Only see! A regular note of invitation from Mrs. Gardiner fo_omorrow night!" cried Meg, waving the precious paper and then proceeding t_ead it with girlish delight.
"'Mrs. Gardiner would be happy to see Miss March and Miss Josephine at _ittle dance on New Year's Eve.' Marmee is willing we should go, now wha_hall we wear?"
"What's the use of asking that, when you know we shall wear our poplins, because we haven't got anything else?" answered Jo with her mouth full.
"If I only had a silk!" sighed Meg. "Mother says I may when I'm eightee_erhaps, but two years is an everlasting time to wait."
"I'm sure our pops look like silk, and they are nice enough for us. Yours i_s good as new, but I forgot the burn and the tear in mine. Whatever shall _o? The burn shows badly, and I can't take any out."
"You must sit still all you can and keep your back out of sight. The front i_ll right. I shall have a new ribbon for my hair, and Marmee will lend me he_ittle pearl pin, and my new slippers are lovely, and my gloves will do, though they aren't as nice as I'd like."
"Mine are spoiled with lemonade, and I can't get any new ones, so I shall hav_o go without," said Jo, who never troubled herself much about dress.
"You must have gloves, or I won't go," cried Meg decidedly. "Gloves are mor_mportant than anything else. You can't dance without them, and if you don't _hould be so mortified."
"Then I'll stay still. I don't care much for company dancing. It's no fun t_o sailing round. I like to fly about and cut capers."
"You can't ask Mother for new ones, they are so expensive, and you are s_areless. She said when you spoiled the others that she shouldn't get you an_ore this winter. Can't you make them do?"
"I can hold them crumpled up in my hand, so no one will know how stained the_re. That's all I can do. No! I'll tell you how we can manage, each wear on_ood one and carry a bad one. Don't you see?"
"Your hands are bigger than mine, and you will stretch my glove dreadfully,"
began Meg, whose gloves were a tender point with her.
"Then I'll go without. I don't care what people say!" cried Jo, taking up he_ook.
"You may have it, you may! Only don't stain it, and do behave nicely. Don'_ut your hands behind you, or stare, or say 'Christopher Columbus!' will you?"
"Don't worry about me. I'll be as prim as I can and not get into any scrapes, if I can help it. Now go and answer your note, and let me finish this splendi_tory."
So Meg went away to 'accept with thanks', look over her dress, and sin_lithely as she did up her one real lace frill, while Jo finished her story, her four apples, and had a game of romps with Scrabble.
On New Year's Eve the parlor was deserted, for the two younger girls playe_ressing maids and the two elder were absorbed in the all-important busines_f 'getting ready for the party'. Simple as the toilets were, there was _reat deal of running up and down, laughing and talking, and at one time _trong smell of burned hair pervaded the house. Meg wanted a few curls abou_er face, and Jo undertook to pinch the papered locks with a pair of ho_ongs.
"Ought they to smoke like that?" asked Beth from her perch on the bed.
"It's the dampness drying," replied Jo.
"What a queer smell! It's like burned feathers," observed Amy, smoothing he_wn pretty curls with a superior air.
"There, now I'll take off the papers and you'll see a cloud of littl_inglets," said Jo, putting down the tongs.
She did take off the papers, but no cloud of ringlets appeared, for the hai_ame with the papers, and the horrified hairdresser laid a row of littl_corched bundles on the bureau before her victim.
"Oh, oh, oh! What have you done? I'm spoiled! I can't go! My hair, oh, m_air!" wailed Meg, looking with despair at the uneven frizzle on her forehead.
"Just my luck! You shouldn't have asked me to do it. I always spoi_verything. I'm so sorry, but the tongs were too hot, and so I've made _ess," groaned poor Jo, regarding the little black pancakes with tears o_egret.
"It isn't spoiled. Just frizzle it, and tie your ribbon so the ends come o_our forehead a bit, and it will look like the last fashion. I've seen man_irls do it so," said Amy consolingly.
"Serves me right for trying to be fine. I wish I'd let my hair alone," crie_eg petulantly.
"So do I, it was so smooth and pretty. But it will soon grow out again," sai_eth, coming to kiss and comfort the shorn sheep.
After various lesser mishaps, Meg was finished at last, and by the unite_xertions of the entire family Jo's hair was got up and her dress on. The_ooked very well in their simple suits, Meg's in silvery drab, with a blu_elvet snood, lace frills, and the pearl pin. Jo in maroon, with a stiff, gentlemanly linen collar, and a white chrysanthemum or two for her onl_rnament. Each put on one nice light glove, and carried one soiled one, an_ll pronounced the effect "quite easy and fine". Meg's high-heeled slipper_ere very tight and hurt her, though she would not own it, and Jo's ninetee_airpins all seemed stuck straight into her head, which was not exactl_omfortable, but, dear me, let us be elegant or die.
"Have a good time, dearies!" said Mrs. March, as the sisters went daintil_own the walk. "Don't eat much supper, and come away at eleven when I sen_annah for you." As the gate clashed behind them, a voice cried from a window…
"Girls, girls! Have you you both got nice pocket handkerchiefs?"
"Yes, yes, spandy nice, and Meg has cologne on hers," cried Jo, adding with _augh as they went on, "I do believe Marmee would ask that if we were al_unning away from an earthquake."
"It is one of her aristocratic tastes, and quite proper, for a real lady i_lways known by neat boots, gloves, and handkerchief," replied Meg, who had _ood many little 'aristocratic tastes' of her own.
"Now don't forget to keep the bad breadth out of sight, Jo. Is my sash right?
And does my hair look very bad?" said Meg, as she turned from the glass i_rs. Gardiner's dressing room after a prolonged prink.
"I know I shall forget. If you see me doing anything wrong, just remind me b_ wink, will you?" returned Jo, giving her collar a twitch and her head _asty brush.
"No, winking isn't ladylike. I'll lift my eyebrows if any thing is wrong, an_od if you are all right. Now hold your shoulder straight, and take shor_teps, and don't shake hands if you are introduced to anyone. It isn't th_hing."
"How do you learn all the proper ways? I never can. Isn't that music gay?"
Down they went, feeling a trifle timid, for they seldom went to parties, an_nformal as this little gathering was, it was an event to them. Mrs. Gardiner, a stately old lady, greeted them kindly and handed them over to the eldest o_er six daughters. Meg knew Sallie and was at her ease very soon, but Jo, wh_idn't care much for girls or girlish gossip, stood about, with her bac_arefully against the wall, and felt as much out of place as a colt in _lower garden. Half a dozen jovial lads were talking about skates in anothe_art of the room, and she longed to go and join them, for skating was one o_he joys of her life. She telegraphed her wish to Meg, but the eyebrows wen_p so alarmingly that she dared not stir. No one came to talk to her, and on_y one the group dwindled away till she was left alone. She could not roa_bout and amuse herself, for the burned breadth would show, so she stared a_eople rather forlornly till the dancing began. Meg was asked at once, and th_ight slippers tripped about so briskly that none would have guessed the pai_heir wearer suffered smilingly. Jo saw a big red headed youth approaching he_orner, and fearing he meant to engage her, she slipped into a curtaine_ecess, intending to peep and enjoy herself in peace. Unfortunately, anothe_ashful person had chosen the same refuge, for, as the curtain fell behin_er, she found herself face to face with the 'Laurence boy'.
"Dear me, I didn't know anyone was here!" stammered Jo, preparing to back ou_s speedily as she had bounced in.
But the boy laughed and said pleasantly, though he looked a little startled,
"Don't mind me, stay if you like."
"Shan't I disturb you?"
"Not a bit. I only came here because I don't know many people and felt rathe_trange at first, you know."
"So did I. Don't go away, please, unless you'd rather."
The boy sat down again and looked at his pumps, till Jo said, trying to b_olite and easy, "I think I've had the pleasure of seeing you before. You liv_ear us, don't you?"
"Next door." And he looked up and laughed outright, for Jo's prim manner wa_ather funny when he remembered how they had chatted about cricket when h_rought the cat home.
That put Jo at her ease and she laughed too, as she said, in her hearties_ay, "We did have such a good time over your nice Christmas present."
"Grandpa sent it."
"But you put it into his head, didn't you, now?"
"How is your cat, Miss March?" asked the boy, trying to look sober while hi_lack eyes shone with fun.
"Nicely, thank you, Mr. Laurence. But I am not Miss March, I'm only Jo,"
returned the young lady.
"I'm not Mr. Laurence, I'm only Laurie."
"Laurie Laurence, what an odd name."
"My first name is Theodore, but I don't like it, for the fellows called m_ora, so I made them say Laurie instead."
"I hate my name, too, so sentimental! I wish every one would say Jo instead o_osephine. How did you make the boys stop calling you Dora?"
"I thrashed 'em."
"I can't thrash Aunt March, so I suppose I shall have to bear it." And J_esigned herself with a sigh.
"Don't you like to dance, Miss Jo?" asked Laurie, looking as if he thought th_ame suited her.
"I like it well enough if there is plenty of room, and everyone is lively. I_ place like this I'm sure to upset something, tread on people's toes, or d_omething dreadful, so I keep out of mischief and let Meg sail about. Don'_ou dance?"
"Sometimes. You see I've been abroad a good many years, and haven't been int_ompany enough yet to know how you do things here."
"Abroad!" cried Jo. "Oh, tell me about it! I love dearly to hear peopl_escribe their travels."
Laurie didn't seem to know where to begin, but Jo's eager questions soon se_im going, and he told her how he had been at school in Vevay, where the boy_ever wore hats and had a fleet of boats on the lake, and for holiday fun wen_n walking trips about Switzerland with their teachers.
"Don't I wish I'd been there!" cried Jo. "Did you go to Paris?"
"We spent last winter there."
"Can you talk French?"
"We were not allowed to speak anything else at Vevay."
"Do say some! I can read it, but can't pronounce."
"Quel nom a cette jeune demoiselle en les pantoufles jolis?"
"How nicely you do it! Let me see … you said, 'Who is the young lady in th_retty slippers', didn't you?"
"It's my sister Margaret, and you knew it was! Do you think she is pretty?"
"Yes, she makes me think of the German girls, she looks so fresh and quiet, and dances like a lady."
Jo quite glowed with pleasure at this boyish praise of her sister, and store_t up to repeat to Meg. Both peeped and critisized and chatted till they fel_ike old acquaintances. Laurie's bashfulness soon wore off, for Jo'_entlemanly demeanor amused and set him at his ease, and Jo was her merry sel_gain, because her dress was forgotten and nobody lifted their eyebrows a_er. She liked the 'Laurence boy' better than ever and took several good look_t him, so that she might describe him to the girls, for they had no brothers, very few male cousins, and boys were almost unknown creatures to them.
"Curly black hair, brown skin, big black eyes, handsome nose, fine teeth, small hands and feet, taller than I am, very polite, for a boy, and altogethe_olly. Wonder how old he is?"
It was on the tip of Jo's tongue to ask, but she checked herself in time and, with unusual tact, tried to find out in a round-about way.
"I suppose you are going to college soon? I see you pegging away at you_ooks, no, I mean studying hard." And Jo blushed at the dreadful 'pegging'
which had escaped her.
Laurie smiled but didn't seem shocked, and answered with a shrug. "Not for _ear or two. I won't go before seventeen, anyway."
"Aren't you but fifteen?" asked Jo, looking at the tall lad, whom she ha_magined seventeen already.
"Sixteen, next month."
"How I wish I was going to college! You don't look as if you liked it."
"I hate it! Nothing but grinding or skylarking. And I don't like the wa_ellows do either, in this country."
"What do you like?"
"To live in Italy, and to enjoy myself in my own way."
Jo wanted very much to ask what his own way was, but his black brows looke_ather threatening as he knit them, so she changed the subject by saying, a_er foot kept time, "That's a splendid polka! Why don't you go and try it?"
"If you will come too," he answered, with a gallant little bow.
"I can't, for I told Meg I wouldn't, because… " There Jo stopped, and looke_ndecided whether to tell or to laugh.
"You won't tell?"
"Well, I have a bad trick of standing before the fire, and so I burn m_rocks, and I scorched this one, and though it's nicely mended, it shows, an_eg told me to keep still so no one would see it. You may laugh, if you wan_o. It is funny, I know."
But Laurie didn't laugh. He only looked down a minute, and the expression o_is face puzzled Jo when he said very gently, "Never mind that. I'll tell yo_ow we can manage. There's a long hall out there, and we can dance grandly, and no one will see us. Please come."
Jo thanked him and gladly went, wishing she had two neat gloves when she sa_he nice, pearl-colored ones her partner wore. The hall was empty, and the_ad a grand polka, for Laurie danced well, and taught her the German step, which delighted Jo, being full of swing and spring. When the music stopped, they sat down on the stairs to get their breath, and Laurie was in the mids_f an account of a students' festival at Heidelberg when Meg appeared i_earch of her sister. She beckoned, and Jo reluctantly followed her into _ide room, where she found her on a sofa, holding her foot, and looking pale.
"I've sprained my ankle. That stupid high heel turned and gave me a sa_rench. It aches so, I can hardly stand, and I don't know how I'm ever goin_o get home," she said, rocking to and fro in pain.
"I knew you'd hurt your feet with those silly shoes. I'm sorry. But I don'_ee what you can do, except get a carriage, or stay here all night," answere_o, softly rubbing the poor ankle as she spoke.
"I can't have a carriage without its costing ever so much. I dare say I can'_et one at all, for most people come in their own, and it's a long way to th_table, and no one to send."
"No, indeed! It's past nine, and dark as Egypt. I can't stop here, for th_ouse is full. Sallie has some girls staying with her. I'll rest till Hanna_omes, and then do the best I can."
"I'll ask Laurie. He will go," said Jo, looking relieved as the idea occurre_o her.
"Mercy, no! Don't ask or tell anyone. Get me my rubbers, and put thes_lippers with our things. I can't dance anymore, but as soon as supper i_ver, watch for Hannah and tell me the minute she comes."
"They are going out to supper now. I'll stay with you. I'd rather."
"No, dear, run along, and bring me some coffee. I'm so tired I can't stir."
So Meg reclined, with rubbers well hidden, and Jo went blundering away to th_ining room, which she found after going into a china closet, and opening th_oor of a room where old Mr. Gardiner was taking a little private refreshment.
Making a dart at the table, she secured the coffee, which she immediatel_pilled, thereby making the front of her dress as bad as the back.
"Oh, dear, what a blunderbuss I am!" exclaimed Jo, finishing Meg's glove b_crubbing her gown with it.
"Can I help you?" said a friendly voice. And there was Laurie, with a full cu_n one hand and a plate of ice in the other.
"I was trying to get something for Meg, who is very tired, and someone shoo_e, and here I am in a nice state," answered Jo, glancing dismally from th_tained skirt to the coffee-colored glove.
"Too bad! I was looking for someone to give this to. May I take it to you_ister?"
"Oh, thank you! I'll show you where she is. I don't offer to take it myself, for I should only get into another scrape if I did."
Jo led the way, and as if used to waiting on ladies, Laurie drew up a littl_able, brought a second installment of coffee and ice for Jo, and was s_bliging that even particular Meg pronounced him a 'nice boy'. They had _erry time over the bonbons and mottoes, and were in the midst of a quiet gam_f _Buzz_ , with two or three other young people who had strayed in, whe_annah appeared. Meg forgot her foot and rose so quickly that she was force_o catch hold of Jo, with an exclamation of pain.
"Hush! Don't say anything," she whispered, adding aloud, "It's nothing. _urned my foot a little, that's all," and limped upstairs to put her thing_n.
Hannah scolded, Meg cried, and Jo was at her wits' end, till she decided t_ake things into her own hands. Slipping out, she ran down and, finding _ervant, asked if he could get her a carriage. It happened to be a hire_aiter who knew nothing about the neighborhood and Jo was looking round fo_elp when Laurie, who had heard what she said, came up and offered hi_randfather's carriage, which had just come for him, he said.
"It's so early! You can't mean to go yet?" began Jo, looking relieved bu_esitating to accept the offer.
"I always go early, I do, truly! Please let me take you home. It's all on m_ay, you know, and it rains, they say."
That settled it, and telling him of Meg's mishap, Jo gratefully accepted an_ushed up to bring down the rest of the party. Hannah hated rain as much as _at does so she made no trouble, and they rolled away in the luxurious clos_arriage, feeling very festive and elegant. Laurie went on the box so Me_ould keep her foot up, and the girls talked over their party in freedom.
"I had a capital time. Did you?" asked Jo, rumpling up her hair, and makin_erself comfortable.
"Yes, till I hurt myself. Sallie's friend, Annie Moffat, took a fancy to me, and asked me to come and spend a week with her when Sallie does. She is goin_n the spring when the opera comes, and it will be perfectly splendid, i_other only lets me go," answered Meg, cheering up at the thought.
"I saw you dancing with the red headed man I ran away from. Was he nice?"
"Oh, very! His hair is auburn, not red, and he was very polite, and I had _elicious redowa with him."
"He looked like a grasshopper in a fit when he did the new step. Laurie and _ouldn't help laughing. Did you hear us?"
"No, but it was very rude. What were you about all that time, hidden awa_here?"
Jo told her adventures, and by the time she had finished they were at home.
With many thanks, they said good night and crept in, hoping to disturb no one, but the instant their door creaked, two little nightcaps bobbed up, and tw_leepy but eager voices cried out…
"Tell about the party! Tell about the party!"
With what Meg called 'a great want of manners' Jo had saved some bonbons fo_he little girls, and they soon subsided, after hearing the most thrillin_vents of the evening.
"I declare, it really seems like being a fine young lady, to come home fro_he party in a carriage and sit in my dressing gown with a maid to wait o_e," said Meg, as Jo bound up her foot with arnica and brushed her hair.
"I don't believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit more than we do, i_pite of our burned hair, old gowns, one glove apiece and tight slippers tha_prain our ankles when we are silly enough to wear them." And I think Jo wa_uite right.