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Chapter 5 Being Neighborly

  • "What in the world are you going to do now, Jo?" asked Meg one snow_fternoon, as her sister came tramping through the hall, in rubber boots, ol_ack, and hood, with a broom in one hand and a shovel in the other.
  • "Going out for exercise," answered Jo with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.
  • "I should think two long walks this morning would have been enough! It's col_nd dull out, and I advise you to stay warm and dry by the fire, as I do,"
  • said Meg with a shiver.
  • "Never take advice! Can't keep still all day, and not being a pussycat, _on't like to doze by the fire. I like adventures, and I'm going to fin_ome."
  • Meg went back to toast her feet and read  _Ivanhoe_ , and Jo began to di_aths with great energy. The snow was light, and with her broom she soon swep_ path all round the garden, for Beth to walk in when the sun came out and th_nvalid dolls needed air. Now, the garden separated the Marches' house fro_hat of Mr. Laurence. Both stood in a suburb of the city, which was stil_ountrylike, with groves and lawns, large gardens, and quiet streets. A lo_edge parted the two estates. On one side was an old, brown house, lookin_ather bare and shabby, robbed of the vines that in summer covered its wall_nd the flowers, which then surrounded it. On the other side was a statel_tone mansion, plainly betokening every sort of comfort and luxury, from th_ig coach house and well-kept grounds to the conservatory and the glimpses o_ovely things one caught between the rich curtains.
  • Yet it seemed a lonely, lifeless sort of house, for no children frolicked o_he lawn, no motherly face ever smiled at the windows, and few people went i_nd out, except the old gentleman and his grandson.
  • To Jo's lively fancy, this fine house seemed a kind of enchanted palace, ful_f splendors and delights which no one enjoyed. She had long wanted to behol_hese hidden glories, and to know the Laurence boy, who looked as if he woul_ike to be known, if he only knew how to begin. Since the party, she had bee_ore eager than ever, and had planned many ways of making friends with him, but he had not been seen lately, and Jo began to think he had gone away, whe_he one day spied a brown face at an upper window, looking wistfully down int_heir garden, where Beth and Amy were snow-balling one another.
  • "That boy is suffering for society and fun," she said to herself. "His grandp_oes not know what's good for him, and keeps him shut up all alone. He needs _arty of jolly boys to play with, or somebody young and lively. I've a grea_ind to go over and tell the old gentleman so!"
  • The idea amused Jo, who liked to do daring things and was always scandalizin_eg by her queer performances. The plan of 'going over' was not forgotten. An_hen the snowy afternoon came, Jo resolved to try what could be done. She sa_r. Lawrence drive off, and then sallied out to dig her way down to the hedge, where she paused and took a survey. All quiet, curtains down at the lowe_indows, servants out of sight, and nothing human visible but a curly blac_ead leaning on a thin hand at the upper window.
  • "There he is," thought Jo, "Poor boy! All alone and sick this dismal day. It'_ shame! I'll toss up a snowball and make him look out, and then say a kin_ord to him."
  • Up went a handful of soft snow, and the head turned at once, showing a fac_hich lost its listless look in a minute, as the big eyes brightened and th_outh began to smile. Jo nodded and laughed, and flourished her broom as sh_alled out…
  • "How do you do? Are you sick?"
  • Laurie opened the window, and croaked out as hoarsely as a raven…
  • "Better, thank you. I've had a bad cold, and been shut up a week."
  • "I'm sorry. What do you amuse yourself with?"
  • "Nothing. It's dull as tombs up here."
  • "Don't you read?"
  • "Not much. They won't let me."
  • "Can't somebody read to you?"
  • "Grandpa does sometimes, but my books don't interest him, and I hate to as_rooke all the time."
  • "Have someone come and see you then."
  • "There isn't anyone I'd like to see. Boys make such a row, and my head i_eak."
  • "Isn't there some nice girl who'd read and amuse you? Girls are quiet and lik_o play nurse."
  • "Don't know any."
  • "You know us," began Jo, then laughed and stopped.
  • "So I do! Will you come, please?" cried Laurie.
  • "I'm not quiet and nice, but I'll come, if Mother will let me. I'll go as_er. Shut the window, like a good boy, and wait till I come."
  • With that, Jo shouldered her broom and marched into the house, wondering wha_hey would all say to her. Laurie was in a flutter of excitement at the ide_f having company, and flew about to get ready, for as Mrs. March said, he was
  • 'a little gentleman', and did honor to the coming guest by brushing his curl_ate, putting on a fresh color, and trying to tidy up the room, which in spit_f half a dozen servants, was anything but neat. Presently there came a lou_ing, than a decided voice, asking for 'Mr. Laurie', and a surprised-lookin_ervant came running up to announce a young lady.
  • "All right, show her up, it's Miss Jo," said Laurie, going to the door of hi_ittle parlor to meet Jo, who appeared, looking rosy and quite at her ease, with a covered dish in one hand and Beth's three kittens in the other.
  • "Here I am, bag and baggage," she said briskly. "Mother sent her love, and wa_lad if I could do anything for you. Meg wanted me to bring some of her blan_ange, she makes it very nicely, and Beth thought her cats would b_omforting. I knew you'd laugh at them, but I couldn't refuse, she was s_nxious to do something."
  • It so happened that Beth's funny loan was just the thing, for in laughing ove_he kits, Laurie forgot his bashfulness, and grew sociable at once.
  • "That looks too pretty to eat," he said, smiling with pleasure, as J_ncovered the dish, and showed the blanc mange, surrounded by a garland o_reen leaves, and the scarlet flowers of Amy's pet geranium.
  • "It isn't anything, only they all felt kindly and wanted to show it. Tell th_irl to put it away for your tea. It's so simple you can eat it, and bein_oft, it will slip down without hurting your sore throat. What a cozy roo_his is!"
  • "It might be if it was kept nice, but the maids are lazy, and I don't know ho_o make them mind. It worries me though."
  • "I'll right it up in two minutes, for it only needs to have the heart_rushed, so—and the things made straight on the mantelpiece, so—and the book_ut here, and the bottles there, and your sofa turned from the light, and th_illows plumped up a bit. Now then, you're fixed."
  • And so he was, for, as she laughed and talked, Jo had whisked things int_lace and given quite a different air to the room. Laurie watched her i_espectful silence, and when she beckoned him to his sofa, he sat down with _igh of satisfaction, saying gratefully…
  • "How kind you are! Yes, that's what it wanted. Now please take the big chai_nd let me do something to amuse my company."
  • "No, I came to amuse you. Shall I read aloud?" and Jo looked affectionatel_oward some inviting books near by.
  • "Thank you! I've read all those, and if you don't mind, I'd rather talk,"
  • answered Laurie.
  • "Not a bit. I'll talk all day if you'll only set me going. Beth says I neve_now when to stop."
  • "Is Beth the rosy one, who stays at home good deal and sometimes goes out wit_ little basket?" asked Laurie with interest.
  • "Yes, that's Beth. She's my girl, and a regular good one she is, too."
  • "The pretty one is Meg, and the curly-haired one is Amy, I believe?"
  • "How did you find that out?"
  • Laurie colored up, but answered frankly, "Why, you see I often hear yo_alling to one another, and when I'm alone up here, I can't help looking ove_t your house, you always seem to be having such good times. I beg your pardo_or being so rude, but sometimes you forget to put down the curtain at th_indow where the flowers are. And when the lamps are lighted, it's lik_ooking at a picture to see the fire, and you all around the table with you_other. Her face is right opposite, and it looks so sweet behind the flowers, I can't help watching it. I haven't got any mother, you know." And Lauri_oked the fire to hide a little twitching of the lips that he could no_ontrol.
  • The solitary, hungry look in his eyes went straight to Jo's warm heart. Sh_ad been so simply taught that there was no nonsense in her head, and a_ifteen she was as innocent and frank as any child. Laurie was sick an_onely, and feeling how rich she was in home and happiness, she gladly trie_o share it with him. Her face was very friendly and her sharp voice unusuall_entle as she said…
  • "We'll never draw that curtain any more, and I give you leave to look as muc_s you like. I just wish, though, instead of peeping, you'd come over and se_s. Mother is so splendid, she'd do you heaps of good, and Beth would sing t_ou if I begged her to, and Amy would dance. Meg and I would make you laug_ver our funny stage properties, and we'd have jolly times. Wouldn't you_randpa let you?"
  • "I think he would, if your mother asked him. He's very kind, though he doe_ot look so, and he lets me do what I like, pretty much, only he's afraid _ight be a bother to strangers," began Laurie, brightening more and more.
  • "We are not strangers, we are neighbors, and you needn't think you'd be _other. We want to know you, and I've been trying to do it this ever so long.
  • We haven't been here a great while, you know, but we have got acquainted wit_ll our neighbors but you."
  • "You see, Grandpa lives among his books, and doesn't mind much what happen_utside. Mr. Brooke, my tutor, doesn't stay here, you know, and I have no on_o go about with me, so I just stop at home and get on as I can."
  • "That's bad. You ought to make an effort and go visiting everywhere you ar_sked, then you'll have plenty of friends, and pleasant places to go to. Neve_ind being bashful. It won't last long if you keep going."
  • Laurie turned red again, but wasn't offended at being accused of bashfulness, for there was so much good will in Jo it was impossible not to take her blun_peeches as kindly as they were meant.
  • "Do you like your school?" asked the boy, changing the subject, after a littl_ause, during which he stared at the fire and Jo looked about her, wel_leased.
  • "Don't go to school, I'm a businessman—girl, I mean. I go to wait on my great- aunt, and a dear, cross old soul she is, too," answered Jo.
  • Laurie opened his mouth to ask another question, but remembering just in tim_hat it wasn't manners to make too many inquiries into people's affairs, h_hut it again, and looked uncomfortable.
  • Jo liked his good breeding, and didn't mind having a laugh at Aunt March, s_he gave him a lively description of the fidgety old lady, her fat poodle, th_arrot that talked Spanish, and the library where she reveled.
  • Laurie enjoyed that immensely, and when she told about the prim old gentlema_ho came once to woo Aunt March, and in the middle of a fine speech, how Pol_ad tweaked his wig off to his great dismay, the boy lay back and laughed til_he tears ran down his cheeks, and a maid popped her head in to see what wa_he matter.
  • "Oh! That does me no end of good. Tell on, please," he said, taking his fac_ut of the sofa cushion, red and shining with merriment.
  • Much elated with her success, Jo did 'tell on', all about their plays an_lans, their hopes and fears for Father, and the most interesting events o_he little world in which the sisters lived. Then they got to talking abou_ooks, and to Jo's delight, she found that Laurie loved them as well as sh_id, and had read even more than herself.
  • "If you like them so much, come down and see ours. Grandfather is out, so yo_eedn't be afraid," said Laurie, getting up.
  • "I'm not afraid of anything," returned Jo, with a toss of the head.
  • "I don't believe you are!" exclaimed the boy, looking at her with muc_dmiration, though he privately thought she would have good reason to be _rifle afraid of the old gentleman, if she met him in some of his moods.
  • The atmosphere of the whole house being summerlike, Laurie led the way fro_oom to room, letting Jo stop to examine whatever struck her fancy. And so, a_ast they came to the library, where she clapped her hands and pranced, as sh_lways did when especially delighted. It was lined with books, and there wer_ictures and statues, and distracting little cabinets full of coins an_uriosities, and Sleepy Hollow chairs, and queer tables, and bronzes, and bes_f all, a great open fireplace with quaint tiles all round it.
  • "What richness!" sighed Jo, sinking into the depth of a velour chair an_azing about her with an air of intense satisfaction. "Theodore Laurence, yo_ught to be the happiest boy in the world," she added impressively.
  • "A fellow can't live on books," said Laurie, shaking his head as he perched o_ table opposite.
  • Before he could more, a bell rang, and Jo flew up, exclaiming with alarm,
  • "Mercy me! It's your grandpa!"
  • "Well, what if it is? You are not afraid of anything, you know," returned th_oy, looking wicked.
  • "I think I am a little bit afraid of him, but I don't know why I should be.
  • Marmee said I might come, and I don't think you're any the worse for it," sai_o, composing herself, though she kept her eyes on the door.
  • "I'm a great deal better for it, and ever so much obliged. I'm only afraid yo_re very tired of talking to me. It was so pleasant, I couldn't bear to stop,"
  • said Laurie gratefully.
  • "The doctor to see you, sir," and the maid beckoned as she spoke.
  • "Would you mind if I left you for a minute? I suppose I must see him," sai_aurie.
  • "Don't mind me. I'm happy as a cricket here," answered Jo.
  • Laurie went away, and his guest amused herself in her own way. She wa_tanding before a fine portrait of the old gentleman when the door opene_gain, and without turning, she said decidedly, "I'm sure now that I shouldn'_e afraid of him, for he's got kind eyes, though his mouth is grim, and h_ooks as if he had a tremendous will of his own. He isn't as handsome as m_randfather, but I like him."
  • "Thank you, ma'am," said a gruff voice behind her, and there, to her grea_ismay, stood old Mr. Laurence.
  • Poor Jo blushed till she couldn't blush any redder, and her heart began t_eat uncomfortably fast as she thought what she had said. For a minute a wil_esire to run away possessed her, but that was cowardly, and the girls woul_augh at her, so she resolved to stay and get out of the scrape as she could.
  • A second look showed her that the living eyes, under the bushy eyebrows, wer_inder even than the painted ones, and there was a sly twinkle in them, whic_essened her fear a good deal. The gruff voice was gruffer than ever, as th_ld gentleman said abruptly, after the dreadful pause, "So you're not afrai_f me, hey?"
  • "Not much, sir."
  • "And you don't think me as handsome as your grandfather?"
  • "Not quite, sir."
  • "And I've got a tremendous will, have I?"
  • "I only said I thought so."
  • "But you like me in spite of it?"
  • "Yes, I do, sir."
  • That answer pleased the old gentleman. He gave a short laugh, shook hands wit_er, and, putting his finger under her chin, turned up her face, examined i_ravely, and let it go, saying with a nod, "You've got your grandfather'_pirit, if you haven't his face. He was a fine man, my dear, but what i_etter, he was a brave and an honest one, and I was proud to be his friend."
  • "Thank you, sir," And Jo was quite comfortable after that, for it suited he_xactly.
  • "What have you been doing to this boy of mine, hey?" was the next question, sharply put.
  • "Only trying to be neighborly, sir." And Jo told how her visit came about.
  • "You think he needs cheering up a bit, do you?"
  • "Yes, sir, he seems a little lonely, and young folks would do him goo_erhaps. We are only girls, but we should be glad to help if we could, for w_on't forget the splendid Christmas present you sent us," said Jo eagerly.
  • "Tut, tut, tut! That was the boy's affair. How is the poor woman?"
  • "Doing nicely, sir." And off went Jo, talking very fast, as she told all abou_he Hummels, in whom her mother had interested richer friends than they were.
  • "Just her father's way of doing good. I shall come and see your mother som_ine day. Tell her so. There's the tea bell, we have it early on the boy'_ccount. Come down and go on being neighborly."
  • "If you'd like to have me, sir."
  • "Shouldn't ask you, if I didn't." And Mr. Laurence offered her his arm wit_ld-fashioned courtesy.
  • "What would Meg say to this?" thought Jo, as she was marched away, while he_yes danced with fun as she imagined herself telling the story at home.
  • "Hey! Why, what the dickens has come to the fellow?" said the old gentleman, as Laurie came running downstairs and brought up with a start of surprise a_he astounding sight of Jo arm in arm with his redoubtable grandfather.
  • "I didn't know you'd come, sir," he began, as Jo gave him a triumphant littl_lance.
  • "That's evident, by the way you racket downstairs. Come to your tea, sir, an_ehave like a gentleman." And having pulled the boy's hair by way of a caress, Mr. Laurence walked on, while Laurie went through a series of comic evolution_ehind their backs, which nearly produced an explosion of laughter from Jo.
  • The old gentleman did not say much as he drank his four cups of tea, but h_atched the young people, who soon chatted away like old friends, and th_hange in his grandson did not escape him. There was color, light, and life i_he boy's face now, vivacity in his manner, and genuine merriment in hi_augh.
  • "She's right, the lad is lonely. I'll see what these little girls can do fo_im," thought Mr. Laurence, as he looked and listened. He liked Jo, for he_dd, blunt ways suited him, and she seemed to understand the boy almost a_ell as if she had been one herself.
  • If the Laurences had been what Jo called 'prim and poky', she would not hav_ot on at all, for such people always made her shy and awkward. But findin_hem free and easy, she was so herself, and made a good impression. When the_ose she proposed to go, but Laurie said he had something more to show her, and took her away to the conservatory, which had been lighted for her benefit.
  • It seemed quite fairylike to Jo, as she went up and down the walks, enjoyin_he blooming walls on either side, the soft light, the damp sweet air, and th_onderful vines and trees that hung about her, while her new friend cut th_inest flowers till his hands were full. Then he tied them up, saying, wit_he happy look Jo liked to see, "Please give these to your mother, and tel_er I like the medicine she sent me very much."
  • They found Mr. Laurence standing before the fire in the great drawing room, but Jo's attention was entirely absorbed by a grand piano, which stood open.
  • "Do you play?" she asked, turning to Laurie with a respectful expression.
  • "Sometimes," he answered modestly.
  • "Please do now. I want to hear it, so I can tell Beth."
  • "Won't you first?"
  • "Don't know how. Too stupid to learn, but I love music dearly."
  • So Laurie played and Jo listened, with her nose luxuriously buried i_eliotrope and tea roses. Her respect and regard for the 'Laurence' bo_ncreased very much, for he played remarkably well and didn't put on any airs.
  • She wished Beth could hear him, but she did not say so, only praised him til_e was quite abashed, and his grandfather came to his rescue.
  • "That will do, that will do, young lady. Too many sugarplums are not good fo_im. His music isn't bad, but I hope he will do as well in more importan_hings. Going? well, I'm much obliged to you, and I hope you'll come again. M_espects to your mother. Good night, Doctor Jo."
  • He shook hands kindly, but looked as if something did not please him. Whe_hey got into the hall, Jo asked Laurie if she had said something amiss. H_hook his head.
  • "No, it was me. He doesn't like to hear me play."
  • "Why not?"
  • "I'll tell you some day. John is going home with you, as I can't."
  • "No need of that. I am not a young lady, and it's only a step. Take care o_ourself, won't you?"
  • "Yes, but you will come again, I hope?"
  • "If you promise to come and see us after you are well."
  • "I will."
  • "Good night, Laurie!"
  • "Good night, Jo, good night!"
  • When all the afternoon's adventures had been told, the family felt inclined t_o visiting in a body, for each found something very attractive in the bi_ouse on the other side of the hedge. Mrs. March wanted to talk of her fathe_ith the old man who had not forgotten him, Meg longed to walk in th_onservatory, Beth sighed for the grand piano, and Amy was eager to see th_ine pictures and statues.
  • "Mother, why didn't Mr. Laurence like to have Laurie play?" asked Jo, who wa_f an inquiring disposition.
  • "I am not sure, but I think it was because his son, Laurie's father, marrie_n Italian lady, a musician, which displeased the old man, who is very proud.
  • The lady was good and lovely and accomplished, but he did not like her, an_ever saw his son after he married. They both died when Laurie was a littl_hild, and then his grandfather took him home. I fancy the boy, who was bor_n Italy, is not very strong, and the old man is afraid of losing him, whic_akes him so careful. Laurie comes naturally by his love of music, for he i_ike his mother, and I dare say his grandfather fears that he may want to be _usician. At any rate, his skill reminds him of the woman he did not like, an_o he 'glowered' as Jo said."
  • "Dear me, how romantic!" exclaimed Meg.
  • "How silly!" said Jo. "Let him be a musician if he wants to, and not plagu_is life out sending him to college, when he hates to go."
  • "That's why he has such handsome black eyes and pretty manners, I suppose.
  • Italians are always nice," said Meg, who was a little sentimental.
  • "What do you know about his eyes and his manners? You never spoke to him, hardly," cried Jo, who was not sentimental.
  • "I saw him at the party, and what you tell shows that he knows how to behave.
  • That was a nice little speech about the medicine Mother sent him."
  • "He meant the blanc mange, I suppose."
  • "How stupid you are, child! He meant you, of course."
  • "Did he?" And Jo opened her eyes as if it had never occurred to her before.
  • "I never saw such a girl! You don't know a compliment when you get it," sai_eg, with the air of a young lady who knew all about the matter.
  • "I think they are great nonsense, and I'll thank you not to be silly and spoi_y fun. Laurie's a nice boy and I like him, and I won't have any sentimenta_tuff about compliments and such rubbish. We'll all be good to him because h_asn't got any mother, and he may come over and see us, mayn't he, Marmee?"
  • "Yes, Jo, your little friend is very welcome, and I hope Meg will remembe_hat children should be children as long as they can."
  • "I don't call myself a child, and I'm not in my teens yet," observed Amy.
  • "What do you say, Beth?"
  • "I was thinking about our ' _Pilgrim's Progress_ '," answered Beth, who ha_ot heard a word. "How we got out of the Slough and through the Wicket Gate b_esolving to be good, and up the steep hill by trying, and that maybe th_ouse over there, full of splendid things, is going to be our Palac_eautiful."
  • "We have got to get by the lions first," said Jo, as if she rather liked th_rospect.