FictionForest

Chapter 9 – Meg Goes To Vanity Fair

Louisa May AlcottJun 22, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

Light off Small Medium Large

"I do think it was the most fortunate thing in the world that
those children should have the measles just now," said Meg, one
April day, as she stood packing the ‘go abroady’ trunk in her room,
surrounded by her sisters.

"And so nice of Annie Moffat not to forget her promise. A
whole fortnight of fun will be regularly splendid," replied Jo,
looking like a windmill as she folded skirts with her long arms.

"And such lovely weather, I’m so glad of that," added Beth,
tidily sorting neck and hair ribbons in her best box, lent for
the great occasion.

"I wish I was going to have a fine time and wear all these
nice things," said Amy with her mouth full of pins, as she
artistically replenished her sister’s cushion.

"I wish you were all going, but as you can’t, I shall keep
my adventures to tell you when I come back. I’m sure it’s the
least I can do when you have been so kind, lending me things
and helping me get ready," said Meg, glancing round the room
at the very simple outfit, which seemed nearly perfect in their
eyes.

"What did Mother give you out of the treasure box?" asked
Amy, who had not been present at the opening of a certain cedar
chest in which Mrs. March kept a few relics of past splendor, as
gifts for her girls when the proper time came.

"A pair of silk stockings, that pretty carved fan, and a
lovely blue sash. I wanted the violet silk, but there isn’t
time to make it over, so I must be contented with my old tarlaton."

"It will look nice over my new muslin skirt, and the sash will
set it off beautifully. I wish I hadn’t smashed my coral bracelet,
for you might have had it," said Jo, who loved to give and lend,
but whose possessions were usually too dilapidated to be of much
use.

"There is a lovely old-fashioned pearl set in the treasure
chest, but Mother said real flowers were the prettiest ornament
for a young girl, and Laurie promised to send me all I want,"
replied Meg. "Now, let me see, there’s my new gray walking suit,
just curl up the feather in my hat, Beth, then my poplin for
Sunday and the small party, it looks heavy for spring, doesn’t
it? The violet silk would be so nice. Oh, dear!"

"Never mind, you’ve got the tarlaton for the big party, and
you always look like an angel in white," said Amy, brooding
over the little store of finery in which her soul delighted.

"It isn’t low-necked, and it doesn’t sweep enough, but it
will have to do. My blue housedress looks so well, turned and
freshly trimmed, that I feel as if I’d got a new one. My silk
sacque isn’t a bit the fashion, and my bonnet doesn’t look like
Sallie’s. I didn’t like to say anything, but I was sadly
disappointed in my umbrella. I told Mother black with a white
handle, but she forgot and bought a green one with a yellowish
handle. It’s strong and neat, so I ought not to complain, but I
know I shall feel ashamed of it beside Annie’s silk one with a
gold top," sighed Meg, surveying the little umbrella with great
disfavor.

"Change it," advised Jo.

"I won’t be so silly, or hurt Marmee’s feelings, when she
took so much pains to get my things. It’s a nonsensical notion
of mine, and I’m not going to give up to it. My silk stockings
and two pairs of new gloves are my comfort. You are a dear to
lend me yours, Jo. I feel so rich and sort of elegant, with
two new pairs, and the old ones cleaned up for common." And
Meg took a refreshing peep at her glove box.

"Annie Moffat has blue and pink bows on her nightcaps.
Would you put some on mine?" she asked, as Beth brought up a
pile of snowy muslins, fresh from Hannah’s hands.

"No, I wouldn’t, for the smart caps won’t match the plain
gowns without any trimming on them. Poor folks shouldn’t rig,"
said Jo decidedly.

"I wonder if I shall ever be happy enough to have real lace
on my clothes and bows on my caps?" said Meg impatiently.

"You said the other day that you’d be perfectly happy if
you could only go to Annie Moffat’s," observed Beth in her quiet
way.

"So I did! Well, I am happy, and I won’t fret, but it does
seem as if the more one gets the more one wants, doesn’t it? There
now, the trays are ready, and everything in but my ball dress,
which I shall leave for Mother to pack," said Meg, cheering up, as
she glanced from the half-filled trunk to the many times pressed
and mended white tarlaton, which she called her ‘ball dress’ with
an important air.

The next day was fine, and Meg departed in style for a fortnight
of novelty and pleasure. Mrs. March had consented to the
visit rather reluctantly, fearing that Margaret would come back
more discontented than she went. But she begged so hard, and
Sallie had promised to take good care of her, and a little pleasure
seemed so delightful after a winter of irksome work that the mother
yielded, and the daughter went to take her first taste of fashionable
life.

The Moffats were very fashionable, and simple Meg was rather
daunted, at first, by the splendor of the house and the elegance
of its occupants. But they were kindly people, in spite of the
frivolous life they led, and soon put their guest at her ease.
Perhaps Meg felt, without understanding why, that they were not
particularly cultivated or intelligent people, and that all their
gilding could not quite conceal the ordinary material of which
they were made. It certainly was agreeable to fare sumptuously,
drive in a fine carriage, wear her best frock every day, and do
nothing but enjoy herself. It suited her exactly, and soon she
began to imitate the manners and conversation of those about her,
to put on little airs and graces, use French phrases, crimp her
hair, take in her dresses, and talk about the fashions as well as
she could. The more she saw of Annie Moffat’s pretty things, the
more she envied her and sighed to be rich. Home now looked bare
and dismal as she thought of it, work grew harder than ever, and
she felt that she was a very destitute and much-injured girl, in
spite of the new gloves and silk stockings.

She had not much time for repining, however, for the three
young girls were busily employed in ‘having a good time’. They
shopped, walked, rode, and called all day, went to theaters and
operas or frolicked at home in the evening, for Annie had many
friends and knew how to entertain them. Her older sisters were
very fine young ladies, and one was engaged, which was extremely
interesting and romantic, Meg thought. Mr. Moffat was a fat,
jolly old gentleman, who knew her father, and Mrs. Moffat, a fat,
jolly old lady, who took as great a fancy to Meg as her daughter
had done. Everyone petted her, and ‘Daisey’, as they called her,
was in a fair way to have her head turned.

When the evening for the small party came, she found that
the poplin wouldn’t do at all, for the other girls were putting
on thin dresses and making themselves very fine indeed. So out
came the tarlatan, looking older, limper, and shabbier than ever
beside Sallie’s crisp new one. Meg saw the girls glance at it
and then at one another, and her cheeks began to burn, for with
all her gentleness she was very proud. No one said a word about
it, but Sallie offered to dress her hair, and Annie to tie her
sash, and Belle, the engaged sister, praised her white arms. But
in their kindness Meg saw only pity for her poverty, and her
heart felt very heavy as she stood by herself, while the others
laughed, chattered, and flew about like gauzy butterflies. The
hard, bitter feeling was getting pretty bad, when the maid
brought in a box of flowers. Before she could speak, Annie had
the cover off, and all were exclaiming at the lovely roses, heath,
and fern within.

"It’s for Belle, of course, George always sends her some,
but these are altogether ravishing," cried Annie, with a great
sniff.

"They are for Miss March, the man said. And here’s a note,"
put in the maid, holding it to Meg.

"What fun! Who are they from? Didn’t know you had a lover,"
cried the girls, fluttering about Meg in a high state of curiosity
and surprise.

"The note is from Mother, and the flowers from Laurie," said
Meg simply, yet much gratified that he had not forgotten her.

"Oh, indeed!" said Annie with a funny look, as Meg slipped
the note into her pocket as a sort of talisman against envy,
vanity, and false pride, for the few loving words had done her
good, and the flowers cheered her up by their beauty.

Feeling almost happy again, she laid by a few ferns and roses
for herself, and quickly made up the rest in dainty bouquets for
the breasts, hair, or skirts of her friends, offering them so
prettily that Clara, the elder sister, told her she was ‘the
sweetest little thing she ever saw’, and they looked quite
charmed with her small attention. Somehow the kind act finished
her despondency, and when all the rest went to show themselves
to Mrs. Moffat, she saw a happy, bright-eyed face in the mirror,
as she laid her ferns against her rippling hair and fastened
the roses in the dress that didn’t strike her as so very shabby
now.

She enjoyed herself very much that evening, for she danced
to her heart’s content. Everyone was very kind, and she had
three compliments. Annie made her sing, and some one said she
had a remarkably fine voice. Major Lincoln asked who ‘the fresh
little girl with the beautiful eyes’ was, and Mr. Moffat insisted
on dancing with her because she ‘didn’t dawdle, but had some spring
in her’, as he gracefully expressed it. So altogether she had a
very nice time, till she overheard a bit of conversation, which
disturbed her extremely. She was sitting just inside the
conservatory, waiting for her partner to bring her an ice, when she
heard a voice ask on the other side of the flowery wall . . .

"How old is he?"

"Sixteen or seventeen, I should say," replied another voice.

"It would be a grand thing for one of those girls, wouldn’t
it? Sallie says they are very intimate now, and the old man quite
dotes on them."

"Mrs. M. has made her plans, I dare say, and will play her
cards well, early as it is. The girl evidently doesn’t think of it
yet," said Mrs. Moffat.

"She told that fib about her momma, as if she did know, and
colored up when the flowers came quite prettily. Poor thing!
She’d be so nice if she was only got up in style. Do you think
she’d be offended if we offered to lend her a dress for Thursday?"
asked another voice.

"She’s proud, but I don’t believe she’d mind, for that dowdy
tarlaton is all she has got. She may tear it tonight, and that
will be a good excuse for offering a decent one."

Here Meg’s partner appeared, to find her looking much flushed
and rather agitated. She was proud, and her pride was useful
just then, for it helped her hide her mortification, anger, and
disgust at what she had just heard. For, innocent and unsuspicious
as she was, she could not help understanding the gossip of her
friends. She tried to forget it, but could not, and kept repeating
to herself, "Mrs. M. has made her plans," "that fib about her
mamma," and "dowdy tarlaton," till she was ready to cry and rush
home to tell her troubles and ask for advice. As that was impossible,
she did her best to seem gay, and being rather excited, she
succeeded so well that no one dreamed what an effort she was making.
She was very glad when it was all over and she was quiet in her bed,
where she could think and wonder and fume till her head ached and
her hot cheeks were cooled by a few natural tears. Those foolish,
yet well meant words, had opened a new world to Meg, and much
disturbed the peace of the old one in which till now she had lived
as happily as a child. Her innocent friendship with Laurie was
spoiled by the silly speeches she had overheard. Her faith in her
mother was a little shaken by the worldly plans attributed to her
by Mrs. Moffat, who judged others by herself, and the sensible
resolution to be contented with the simple wardrobe which suited
a poor man’s daughter was weakened by the unnecessary pity of
girls who thought a shabby dress one of the greatest calamities
under heaven.

Poor Meg had a restless night, and got up heavy-eyed, unhappy,
half resentful toward her friends, and half ashamed of herself for
not speaking out frankly and setting everything right. Everybody
dawdled that morning, and it was noon before the girls found
energy enough even to take up their worsted work. Something in
the manner of her friends struck Meg at once. They treated her
with more respect, she thought, took quite a tender interest in
what she said, and looked at her with eyes that plainly betrayed
curiosity. All this surprised and flattered her, though she did
not understand it till Miss Belle looked up from her writing, and
said, with a sentimental air . . .

"Daisy, dear, I’ve sent an invitation to your friend, Mr.
Laurence, for Thursday. We should like to know him, and it’s only
a proper compliment to you."

Meg colored, but a mischievous fancy to tease the girls made
her reply demurely, "You are very kind, but I’m afraid he won’t
come."

"Why not, Cherie?" asked Miss Belle.

"He’s too old."

"My child, what do you mean? What is his age, I beg to
know!" cried Miss Clara.

"Nearly seventy, I believe," answered Meg, counting stitches
to hide the merriment in her eyes.

"You sly creature! Of course we meant the young man,"
exclaimed Miss Belle, laughing.

"There isn’t any, Laurie is only a little boy." And Meg
laughed also at the queer look which the sisters exchanged as she
thus described her supposed lover.

"About your age," Nan said.

"Nearer my sister Jo’s; I am seventeen in August," returned
Meg, tossing her head.

"It’s very nice of him to send you flowers, isn’t it?" said
Annie, looking wise about nothing.

"Yes, he often does, to all of us, for their house is full, and
we are so fond of them. My mother and old Mr. Laurence are friends,
you know, so it is quite natural that we children should play
together," and Meg hoped they would say no more.

"It’s evident Daisy isn’t out yet," said Miss Clara to Belle with a
nod.

"Quite a pastoral state of innocence all round," returned
Miss Belle with a shrug.

"I’m going out to get some little matters for my girls. Can
I do anything for you, young ladies?" asked Mrs. Moffat, lumbering
in like an elephant in silk and lace.

"No, thank you, ma’am," replied Sallie. "I’ve got my new
pink silk for Thursday and don’t want a thing."

"Nor I . . ." began Meg, but stopped because it occurred to
her that she did want several things and could not have them.

"What shall you wear?" asked Sallie.

"My old white one again, if I can mend it fit to be seen, it
got sadly torn last night," said Meg, trying to speak quite easily,
but feeling very uncomfortable.

"Why don’t you send home for another?" said Sallie, who was
not an observing young lady.

"I haven’t got any other." It cost Meg an effort to say that,
but Sallie did not see it and exclaimed in amiable surprise, "Only
that? How funny . . ." She did not finish her speech, for Belle
shook her head at her and broke in, saying kindly . . .

"Not at all. Where is the use of having a lot of dresses
when she isn’t out yet? There’s no need of sending home, Daisy,
even if you had a dozen, for I’ve got a sweet blue silk laid away,
which I’ve outgrown, and you shall wear it to please me, won’t
you, dear?"

"You are very kind, but I don’t mind my old dress if you
don’t, it does well enough for a little girl like me," said Meg.

"Now do let me please myself by dressing you up in style.
I admire to do it, and you’d be a regular little beauty with a
touch here and there. I shan’t let anyone see you till you are
done, and then we’ll burst upon them like Cinderella and her
godmother going to the ball," said Belle in her persuasive tone.

Meg couldn’t refuse the offer so kindly made, for a desire to
see if she would be ‘a little beauty’ after touching up caused
her to accept and forget all her former uncomfortable feelings
toward the Moffats.

On the Thursday evening, Belle shut herself up with her maid,
and between them they turned Meg into a fine lady. They crimped
and curled her hair, they polished her neck and arms with some
fragrant powder, touched her lips with coralline salve to make
them redder, and Hortense would have added ‘a soupcon of rouge’,
if Meg had not rebelled. They laced her into a sky-blue dress,
which was so tight she could hardly breathe and so low in the
neck that modest Meg blushed at herself in the mirror. A set
of silver filagree was added, bracelets, necklace, brooch, and
even earrings, for Hortense tied them on with a bit of pink
silk which did not show. A cluster of tea-rose buds at the
bosom, and a ruche, reconciled Meg to the display of her pretty,
white shoulders, and a pair of high-heeled silk boots satisfied
the last wish of her heart. A lace handkerchief, a plumy fan,
and a bouquet in a shoulder holder finished her off, and Miss
Belle surveyed her with the satisfaction of a little girl with
a newly dressed doll.

"Mademoiselle is charmante, tres jolie, is she not?" cried
Hortense, clasping her hands in an affected rapture.

"Come and show yourself," said Miss Belle, leading the way
to the room where the others were waiting.

As Meg went rustling after, with her long skirts trailing,
her earrings tinkling, her curls waving, and her heart beating,
she felt as if her fun had really begun at last, for the mirror
had plainly told her that she was ‘a little beauty’. Her friends
repeated the pleasing phrase enthusiastically, and for several
minutes she stood, like a jackdaw in the fable, enjoying her
borrowed plumes, while the rest chattered like a party of magpies.

"While I dress, do you drill her, Nan, in the management of her
skirt and those French heels, or she will trip herself up. Take
your silver butterfly, and catch up that long curl on the left side
of her head, Clara, and don’t any of you disturb the charming work
of my hands," said Belle, as she hurried away, looking well pleased
with her success.

"You don’t look a bit like yourself, but you are very nice.
I’m nowhere beside you, for Belle has heaps of taste, and you’re
quite French, I assure you. Let your flowers hang, don’t be so
careful of them, and be sure you don’t trip," returned Sallie, trying
not to care that Meg was prettier than herself.

Keeping that warning carefully in mind, Margaret got safely
down stairs and sailed into the drawing rooms where the Moffats and
a few early guests were assembled. She very soon discovered that
there is a charm about fine clothes which attracts a certain class
of people and secures their respect. Several young ladies, who
had taken no notice of her before, were very affectionate all of
a sudden. Several young gentlemen, who had only stared at her at
the other party, now not only stared, but asked to be introduced,
and said all manner of foolish but agreeable things to her, and
several old ladies, who sat on the sofas, and criticized the rest
of the party, inquired who she was with an air of interest. She
heard Mrs. Moffat reply to one of them . . .

"Daisy March – father a colonel in the army – one of our first
families, but reverses of fortune, you know; intimate friends of
the Laurences; sweet creature, I assure you; my Ned is quite wild
about her."

"Dear me!" said the old lady, putting up her glass for
another observation of Meg, who tried to look as if she had not
heard and been rather shocked at Mrs. Moffat’s fibs.
The ‘queer feeling’ did not pass away, but she imagined
herself acting the new part of fine lady and so got on pretty
well, though the tight dress gave her a side-ache, the train kept
getting under her feet, and she was in constant fear lest her
earrings should fly off and get lost or broken. She was flirting
her fan and laughing at the feeble jokes of a young gentleman
who tried to be witty, when she suddenly stopped laughing and
looked confused, for just opposite, she saw Laurie. He was
staring at her with undisguised surprise, and disapproval also,
she thought, for though he bowed and smiled, yet something in
his honest eyes made her blush and wish she had her old dress on.
To complete her confusion, she saw Belle nudge Annie, and both
glance from her to Laurie, who, she was happy to see, looked
unusually boyish and shy.

"Silly creatures, to put such thoughts into my head. I won’t
care for it, or let it change me a bit," thought Meg, and rustled
across the room to shake hands with her friend.

"I’m glad you came, I was afraid you wouldn’t." she said,
with her most grown-up air.

"Jo wanted me to come, and tell her how you looked, so I
did," answered Laurie, without turning his eyes upon her, though
he half smiled at her maternal tone.

"What shall you tell her?" asked Meg, full of curiosity to
know his opinion of her, yet feeling ill at ease with him for the
first time.

"I shall say I didn’t know you, for you look so grown-up and
unlike yourself, I’m quite afraid of you," he said, fumbling at
his glove button.

"How absurd of you! The girls dressed me up for fun, and I
rather like it. Wouldn’t Jo stare if she saw me?" said Meg, bent
on making him say whether he thought her improved or not.

"Yes, I think she would," returned Laurie gravely.

"Don’t you like me so?" asked Meg.

"No, I don’t," was the blunt reply.

"Why not?" in an anxious tone.

He glanced at her frizzled head, bare shoulders, and fantastically
trimmed dress with an expression that abashed her more than
his answer, which had not a particle of his usual politeness in it.

"I don’t like fuss and feathers."

That was altogether too much from a lad younger than herself,
and Meg walked away, saying petulantly, "You are the rudest boy I
ever saw."

Feeling very much ruffled, she went and stood at a quiet window
to cool her cheeks, for the tight dress gave her an uncomfortably
brilliant color. As she stood there, Major Lincoln passed by, and
a minute after she heard him saying to his mother . . .

"They are making a fool of that little girl. I wanted you
to see her, but they have spoiled her entirely. She’s nothing
but a doll tonight."

"Oh, dear!" sighed Meg. "I wish I’d been sensible and worn
my own things, then I should not have disgusted other people, or
felt so uncomfortable and ashamed of myself."

She leaned her forehead on the cool pane, and stood half
hidden by the curtains, never minding that her favorite waltz
had begun, till some one touched her, and turning, she saw
Laurie, looking penitent, as he said, with his very best bow
and his hand out . . .

"Please forgive my rudeness, and come and dance with me."

"I’m afraid it will be too disagreeable to you," said Meg,
trying to look offended and failing entirely.

"Not a bit of it, I’m dying to do it. Come, I’ll be good.
I don’t like your gown, but I do think you are just splendid."
And he waved his hands, as if words failed to express his
admiration.

Meg smiled and relented, and whispered as they stood waiting
to catch the time, "Take care my skirt doesn’t trip you up. It’s
the plague of my life and I was a goose to wear it."

"Pin it round your neck, and then it will be useful," said
Laurie, looking down at the little blue boots, which he evidently
approved of.

Away they went fleetly and gracefully, for having practiced
at home, they were well matched, and the blithe young couple were
a pleasant sight to see, as they twirled merrily round and round,
feeling more friendly than ever after their small tiff.

"Laurie, I want you to do me a favor, will you?" said Meg,
as he stood fanning her when her breath gave out, which it did
very soon though she would not own why.

"Won’t I!" said Laurie, with alacrity.

"Please don’t tell them at home about my dress tonight.
They won’t understand the joke, and it will worry Mother."

"Then why did you do it?" said Laurie’s eyes, so plainly
that Meg hastily added . . .

"I shall tell them myself all about it, and ‘fess’ to Mother
how silly I’ve been. But I’d rather do it myself. So you’ll not
tell, will you?"

"I give you my word I won’t, only what shall I say when
they ask me?"

"Just say I looked pretty well and was having a good time."

"I’ll say the first with all my heart, but how about the
other? You don’t look as if you were having a good time. Are
you?" And Laurie looked at her with an expression which made her
answer in a whisper . . .

"No, not just now. Don’t think I’m horrid. I only wanted
a little fun, but this sort doesn’t pay, I find, and I’m getting
tired of it."

"Here comes Ned Moffat. What does he want?" said Laurie,
knitting his black brows as if he did not regard his young host
in the light of a pleasant addition to the party.

"He put his name down for three dances, and I suppose he’s
coming for them. What a bore!" said Meg, assuming a languid air
which amused Laurie immensely.

He did not speak to her again till suppertime, when he saw
her drinking champagne with Ned and his friend Fisher, who were
behaving ‘like a pair of fools’, as Laurie said to himself, for
he felt a brotherly sort of right to watch over the Marches and
fight their battles whenever a defender was needed.

"You’ll have a splitting headache tomorrow, if you drink
much of that. I wouldn’t, Meg, your mother doesn’t like it, you
know," he whispered, leaning over her chair, as Ned turned to
refill her glass and Fisher stooped to pick up her fan.

"I’m not Meg tonight, I’m ‘a doll’ who does all sorts of
crazy things. Tomorrow I shall put away my ‘fuss and feathers’
and be desperately good again," she answered with an affected
little laugh.

"Wish tomorrow was here, then," muttered Laurie, walking off,
ill-pleased at the change he saw in her.

Meg danced and flirted, chattered and giggled, as the other
girls did. After supper she undertook the German, and blundered
through it, nearly upsetting her partner with her long skirt, and
romping in a way that scandalized Laurie, who looked on and meditated
a lecture. But he got no chance to deliver it, for Meg kept away
from him till he came to say good night.

"Remember!" she said, trying to smile, for the splitting
headache had already begun.

"Silence a la mort," replied Laurie, with a melodramatic
flourish, as he went away.

This little bit of byplay excited Annie’s curiosity, but Meg
was too tired for gossip and went to bed, feeling as if she had
been to a masquerade and hadn’t enjoyed herself as much as she
expected. She was sick all the next day, and on Saturday went home,
quite used up with her fortnight’s fun and feeling that she had
‘sat in the lap of luxury’ long enough.

"It does seem pleasant to be quiet, and not have company
manners on all the time. Home is a nice place, though it isn’t
splendid," said Meg, looking about her with a restful expression,
as she sat with her mother and Jo on the Sunday evening.

"I’m glad to hear you say so, dear, for I was afraid home
would seem dull and poor to you after your fine quarters," replied
her mother, who had given her many anxious looks that day. For
motherly eyes are quick to see any change in children’s faces.

Meg had told her adventures gayly and said over and over what
a charming time she had had, but something still seemed to weigh
upon her spirits, and when the younger girls were gone to bed, she
sat thoughtfully staring at the fire, saying little and looking
worried. As the clock struck nine and Jo proposed bed, Meg
suddenly left her chair and, taking Beth’s stool, leaned her elbows
on her mother’s knee, saying bravely . . .

"Marmee, I want to ‘fess’."

"I thought so. What is it, dear?"

"Shall I go away?" asked Jo discreetly.

"Of course not. Don’t I always tell you everything? I was
ashamed to speak of it before the younger children, but I want you
to know all the dreadful things I did at the Moffats’."

"We are prepared," said Mrs. March, smiling but looking a
little anxious.

"I told you they dressed me up, but I didn’t tell you that
they powdered and squeezed and frizzled, and made me look like a
fashion-plate. Laurie thought I wasn’t proper. I know he did,
though he didn’t say so, and one man called me ‘a doll’. I knew
it was silly, but they flattered me and said I was a beauty, and
quantities of nonsense, so I let them make a fool of me."

"Is that all?" asked Jo, as Mrs. March looked silently at
the downcast face of her pretty daughter, and could not find it
in her heart to blame her little follies.

"No, I drank champagne and romped and tried to flirt, and
was altogether abominable," said Meg self-reproachfully.

"There is something more, I think." And Mrs. March smoothed
the soft cheek, which suddenly grew rosy as Meg answered slowly . . .

"Yes. It’s very silly, but I want to tell it, because I hate
to have people say and think such things about us and Laurie."

Then she told the various bits of gossip she had heard at the
Moffats’, and as she spoke, Jo saw her mother fold her lips tightly,
as if ill pleased that such ideas should be put into Meg’s innocent
mind.

"Well, if that isn’t the greatest rubbish I ever heard," cried
Jo indignantly. "Why didn’t you pop out and tell them so on the
spot?"

"I couldn’t, it was so embarrassing for me. I couldn’t help
hearing at first, and then I was so angry and ashamed, I didn’t
remember that I ought to go away."

"Just wait till I see Annie Moffat, and I’ll show you how to
settle such ridiculous stuff. The idea of having ‘plans’ and being
kind to Laurie because he’s rich and may marry us by-and-by! Won’t
he shout when I tell him what those silly things say about us poor
children?" And Jo laughed, as if on second thoughts the thing
struck her as a good joke.

"If you tell Laurie, I’ll never forgive you! She mustn’t,
must she, Mother?" said Meg, looking distressed.

"No, never repeat that foolish gossip, and forget it as soon
as you can," said Mrs. March gravely. "I was very unwise to let
you go among people of whom I know so little, kind, I dare say,
but worldly, ill-bred, and full of these vulgar ideas about young
people. I am more sorry than I can express for the mischief this
visit may have done you, Meg."

"Don’t be sorry, I won’t let it hurt me. I’ll forget all the
bad and remember only the good, for I did enjoy a great deal, and
thank you very much for letting me go. I’ll not be sentimental or
dissatisfied, Mother. I know I’m a silly little girl, and I’ll
stay with you till I’m fit to take care of myself. But it is nice
to be praised and admired, and I can’t help saying I like it," said
Meg, looking half ashamed of the confession.

"That is perfectly natural, and quite harmless, if the liking
does not become a passion and lead one to do foolish or unmaidenly
things. Learn to know and value the praise which is worth having,
and to excite the admiration of excellent people by being modest
as well as pretty, Meg."

Margaret sat thinking a moment, while Jo stood with her hands
behind her, looking both interested and a little perplexed, for it
was a new thing to see Meg blushing and talking about admiration,
lovers, and things of that sort. And Jo felt as if during that
fortnight her sister had grown up amazingly, and was drifting away
from her into a world where she could not follow.

"Mother, do you have ‘plans’, as Mrs. Moffat said?" asked Meg
bashfully.

"Yes, my dear, I have a great many, all mothers do, but mine
differ somewhat from Mrs. Moffat’s, I suspect. I will tell you
some of them, for the time has come when a word may set this
romantic little head and heart of yours right, on a very serious
subject. You are young, Meg, but not too young to understand me,
and mothers’ lips are the fittest to speak of such things to girls
like you. Jo, your turn will come in time, perhaps, so listen to
my ‘plans’ and help me carry them out, if they are good."

Jo went and sat on one arm of the chair, looking as if she
thought they were about to join in some very solemn affair.
Holding a hand of each, and watching the two young faces wistfully,
Mrs. March said, in her serious yet cheery way . . .

"I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good.
To be admired, loved, and respected. To have a happy youth, to
be well and wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives,
with as little care and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send.
To be loved and chosen by a good man is the best and sweetest thing
which can happen to a woman, and I sincerely hope my girls may
know this beautiful experience. It is natural to think of it, Meg,
right to hope and wait for it, and wise to prepare for it, so that
when the happy time comes, you may feel ready for the duties and
worthy of the joy. My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but not
to have you make a dash in the world, marry rich men merely because
they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because
love is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing, and when
well used, a noble thing, but I never want you to think it is the
first or only prize to strive for. I’d rather see you poor men’s
wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones,
without self-respect and peace."

"Poor girls don’t stand any chance, Belle says, unless they
put themselves forward," sighed Meg.

"Then we’ll be old maids," said Jo stoutly.

"Right, Jo. Better be happy old maids than unhappy wives, or
unmaidenly girls, running about to find husbands," said Mrs. March
decidedly. "Don’t be troubled, Meg, poverty seldom daunts a sincere
lover. Some of the best and most honored women I know were poor
girls, but so love-worthy that they were not allowed to be old maids.
Leave these things to time. Make this home happy, so that you may
be fit for homes of your own, if they are offered you, and contented
here if they are not. One thing remember, my girls. Mother is
always ready to be your confidant, Father to be your friend, and
both of us hope and trust that our daughters, whether married or
single, will be the pride and comfort of our lives."

"We will, Marmee, we will!" cried both, with all their hearts,
as she bade them good night.

 

Leave a Reply