FictionForest

Chapter 12 – Camp Laurence

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

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Beth was postmistress, for, being most at home, she could
attend to it regularly, and dearly liked the daily task of
unlocking the little door and distributing the mail. One July
day she came in with her hands full, and went about the house
leaving letters and parcels like the penny post.

"Here’s your posy, Mother! Laurie never forgets that," she
said, putting the fresh nosegay in the vase that stood in ‘Marmee’s
corner’, and was kept supplied by the affectionate boy.

"Miss Meg March, one letter and a glove," continued Beth,
delivering the articles to her sister, who sat near her mother,
stitching wristbands.

"Why, I left a pair over there, and here is only one," said
Meg, looking at the gray cotton glove. "Didn’t you drop the
other in the garden?"

"No, I’m sure I didn’t, for there was only one in the office."

"I hate to have odd gloves! Never mind, the other may be
found. My letter is only a translation of the German song I
wanted. I think Mr. Brooke did it, for this isn’t Laurie’s
writing."

Mrs. March glanced at Meg, who was looking very pretty in
her gingham morning gown, with the little curls blowing about her
forehead, and very womanly, as she sat sewing at her little worktable,
full of tidy white rolls, so unconscious of the thought in her
mother’s mind as she sewed and sang, while her fingers flew
and her thoughts were busied with girlish fancies as innocent
and fresh as the pansies in her belt, that Mrs. March smiled and
was satisfied.

"Two letters for Doctor Jo, a book, and a funny old hat,
which covered the whole post office and stuck outside," said
Beth, laughing as she went into the study where Jo sat writing.

"What a sly fellow Laurie is! I said I wished bigger hats
were the fashion, because I burn my face every hot day. He said,
‘Why mind the fashion? Wear a big hat, and be comfortable!’ I
said I would if I had one, and he has sent me this, to try me. I’ll
wear it for fun, and show him I don’t care for the fashion." And
hanging the antique broad-brim on a bust of Plato, Jo read her
letters.

One from her mother made her cheeks glow and her eyes fill,
for it said to her . . .

My Dear:

I write a little word to tell you with how much satisfaction
I watch your efforts to control your temper. You say nothing
about your trials, failures, or successes, and think, perhaps,
that no one sees them but the Friend whose help you daily ask,
if I may trust the well-worn cover of your guidebook. I, too,
have seen them all, and heartily believe in the sincerity of
your resolution, since it begins to bear fruit. Go on, dear,
patiently and bravely, and always believe that no one sympathizes
more tenderly with you than your loving . . .

Mother

"That does me good! That’s worth millions of money and
pecks of praise. Oh, Marmee, I do try! I will keep on trying,
and not get tired, since I have you to help me."

Laying her head on her arms, Jo wet her little romance with
a few happy tears, for she had thought that no one saw and
appreciated her efforts to be good, and this assurance was doubly
precious, doubly encouraging, because unexpected and from the
person whose commendation she most valued. Feeling stronger than
ever to meet and subdue her Apollyon, she pinned the note inside her
frock, as a shield and a reminder, lest she be taken unaware, and
proceeded to open her other letter, quite ready for either good or
bad news. In a big, dashing hand, Laurie wrote . . .

Dear Jo,
What ho!

Some english girls and boys are coming to see me tomorrow
and I want to have a jolly time. If it’s fine, I’m going to pitch
my tent in Longmeadow, and row up the whole crew to lunch and
croquet – have a fire, make messes, gypsy fashion, and all sorts
of larks. They are nice people, and like such things. Brooke will
go to keep us boys steady, and Kate Vaughn will play propriety for
the girls. I want you all to come, can’t let Beth off at any price,
and nobody shall worry her. Don’t bother about rations, I’ll see
to that and everything else, only do come, there’s a good fellow!

In a tearing hurry,
Yours ever, Laurie.

"Here’s richness!" cried Jo, flying in to tell the news to Meg.

"Of course we can go, Mother? It will be such a help to
Laurie, for I can row, and Meg see to the lunch, and the children
be useful in some way."

"I hope the Vaughns are not fine grown-up people. Do you
know anything about them, Jo?" asked Meg.

"Only that there are four of them. Kate is older than you,
Fred and Frank (twins) about my age, and a little girl (Grace), who
is nine or ten. Laurie knew them abroad, and liked the boys. I
fancied, from the way he primmed up his mouth in speaking of her,
that he didn’t admire Kate much."

"I’m so glad my French print is clean, it’s just the thing
and so becoming!" observed Meg complacently. "Have you anything
decent, Jo?"

"Scarlet and gray boating suit, good enough for me. I shall
row and tramp about, so I don’t want any starch to think of. You’ll
come, Betty?"

"If you won’t let any boys talk to me."

"Not a boy!"

"I like to please Laurie, and I’m not afraid of Mr. Brooke,
he is so kind. But I don’t want to play, or sing, or say anything.
I’ll work hard and not trouble anyone, and you’ll take care of me,
Jo, so I’ll go."

"That’s my good girl. You do try to fight off your shyness,
and I love you for it. Fighting faults isn’t easy, as I know, and
a cheery word kind of gives a lift. Thank you, Mother," And Jo
gave the thin cheek a grateful kiss, more precious to Mrs. March
than if it had given back the rosy roundness of her youth.

"I had a box of chocolate drops, and the picture I wanted to
copy," said Amy, showing her mail.

"And I got a note from Mr. Laurence, asking me to come over
and play to him tonight, before the lamps are lighted, and I shall
go," added Beth, whose friendship with the old gentleman prospered
finely.

"Now let’s fly round, and do double duty today, so that we can
play tomorrow with free minds," said Jo, preparing to replace her
pen with a broom.

When the sun peeped into the girls’ room early next morning
to promise them a fine day, he saw a comical sight. Each had
made such preparation for the fete as seemed necessary and proper.
Meg had an extra row of little curlpapers across her forehead, Jo
had copiously anointed her afflicted face with cold cream, Beth
had taken Joanna to bed with her to atone for the approaching
separation, and Amy had capped the climax by putting a colthespin
on her nose to uplift the offending feature. It was one of the
kind artists use to hold the paper on their drawing boards,
therefore quite appropriate and effective for the purpose it was now
being put. This funny spectacle appeared to amuse the sun, for
he burst out with such radiance that Jo woke up and roused her
sisters by a hearty laugh at Amy’s ornament.

Sunshine and laughter were good omens for a pleasure party,
and soon a lively bustle began in both houses. Beth, who was
ready first, kept reporting what went on next door, and enlivened
her sisters’ toilets by frequent telegrams from the window.

"There goes the man with the tent! I see Mrs. Barker doing
up the lunch in a hamper and a great basket. Now Mr. Laurence is
looking up at the sky and the weathercock. I wish he would go
too. There’s Laurie, looking like a sailor, nice boy! Oh, mercy
me! Here’s a carriage full of people, a tall lady, a little girl,
and two dreadful boys. One is lame, poor thing, he’s got a crutch.
Laurie didn’t tell us that. Be quick, girls! It’s getting late.
Why, there is Ned Moffat, I do declare. Meg, isn’t that the man
who bowed to you one day when we were shopping?"

"So it is. How queer that he should come. I thought he was
at the mountains. There is Sallie. I’m glad she got back in time.
Am I all right, Jo?" cried Meg in a flutter.

"A regular daisy. Hold up your dress and put your hat on
straight, it looks sentimental tipped that way and will fly off
at the first puff. Now then, come on!"

"Oh, Jo, you are not going to wear that awful hat? It’s too
absurd! You shall not make a guy of yourself," remonstrated Meg,
as Jo tied down with a red ribbon the broad-brimmed, old-fashioned
leghorn Laurie had sent for a joke.

"I just will, though, for it’s capital, so shady, light, and big.
It will make fun, and I don’t mind being a guy if I’m comfortable."
With that Jo marched straight away and the rest followed,
a bright little band of sisters, all looking their best in summer
suits, with happy faces under the jaunty hatbrims.

Laurie ran to meet and present them to his friends in the
most cordial manner. The lawn was the reception room, and for
several minutes a lively scene was enacted there. Meg was
grateful to see that Miss Kate, though twenty, was dressed with
a simplicity which American girls would do well to imitate, and
who was much flattered by Mr. Ned’s assurances that he came
especially to see her. Jo understood why Laurie ‘primmed up
his mouth’ when speaking of Kate, for that young lady had a
standoff-don’t-touch-me air, which contrasted strongly with the
free and easy demeanor of the other girls. Beth took an observation
of the new boys and decided that the lame one was not ‘dreadful’,
but gentle and feeble, and she would be kind to him on that
account. Amy found Grace a well-mannered, merry, little person,
and after staring dumbly at one another for a few minutes, they
suddenly became very good friends.

Tents, lunch, and croquet utensils having been sent on
beforehand, the party was soon embarked, and the two boats
pushed off together, leaving Mr. Laurence waving his hat on the
shore. Laurie and Jo rowed one boat, Mr. Brooke and Ned the
other, while Fred Vaughn, the riotous twin, did his best to
upset both by paddling about in a wherry like a disturbed water
bug. Jo’s funny hat deserved a vote of thanks, for it was of
general utility. It broke the ice in the beginning by producing
a laugh, it created quite a refreshing breeze, flapping to and
fro as she rowed, and would make an excellent umbrella for the
whole party, if a shower came up, she said. Miss Kate decided
that she was ‘odd’, but rather clever, and smiled upon her from
afar.

Meg, in the other boat, was delightfully situated, face to
face with the rowers, who both admired the prospect and feathered
their oars with uncommon ‘skill and dexterity’. Mr. Brooke was
a grave, silent young man, with handsome brown eyes and a pleasant
voice. Meg liked his quiet manners and considered him a walking
encyclopedia of useful knowledge. He never talked to her much, but
he looked at her a good deal, and she felt sure that he did not
regard her with aversion. Ned, being in college, of course put
on all the airs which freshmen think it their bounden duty to
assume. He was not very wise, but very good-natured, and altogether
an excellent person to carry on a picnic. Sallie Gardiner was
absorbed in keeping her white pique dress clean and chattering with
the ubiquitous Fred, who kept Beth in constant terror by his pranks.

It was not far to Longmeadow, but the tent was pitched and
the wickets down by the time they arrived. A pleasant green field,
with three wide-spreading oaks in the middle and a smooth strip of
turf for croquet.

"Welcome to Camp Laurence!" said the young host, as they
landed with exclamations of delight.

"Brooke is commander in chief, I am commissary general, the
other fellows are staff officers, and you, ladies, are company.
The tent is for your especial benefit and that oak is your drawing
room, this is the messroom and the third is the camp kitchen. Now,
let’s have a game before it gets hot, and then we’ll see about
dinner."

Frank, Beth, Amy, and Grace sat down to watch the game
played by the other eight. Mr. Brooke chose Meg, Kate, and Fred.
Laurie took Sallie, Jo, and Ned. The English played well, but
the Americans played better, and contested every inch of the
ground as strongly as if the spirit of ’76 inspired them. Jo and
Fred had several skirmishes and once narrowly escaped high words.
Jo was through the last wicket and had missed the stroke, which
failure ruffled her a good deal. Fred was close behind her and
his turn came before hers. He gave a stroke, his ball hit the
wicket, and stopped an inch on the wrong side. No one was very
near, and running up to examine, he gave it a sly nudge with his
toe, which put it just an inch on the right side.

"I’m through! Now, Miss Jo, I’ll settle you, and get in
first," cried the young gentleman, swinging his mallet for another
blow.

"You pushed it. I saw you. It’s my turn now," said Jo
sharply.

"Upon my word, I didn’t move it. It rolled a bit, perhaps,
but that is allowed. So, stand off please, and let me have a go
at the stake."

"We don’t cheat in America, but you can, if you choose," said
Jo angrily.

"Yankees are a deal the most tricky, everybody knows. There
you go!" returned Fred, croqueting her ball far away.

Jo opened her lips to say something rude, but checked herself
in time, colored up to her forehead and stood a minute, hammering
down a wicket with all her might, while Fred hit the stake and
declared himself out with much exultation. She went off to get her
ball, and was a long time finding it among the bushes, but she came
back, looking cool and quiet, and waited her turn patiently. It
took several strokes to regain the place she had lost, and when she
got there, the other side had nearly won, for Kate’s ball was the
last but one and lay near the stake.

"By George, it’s all up with us! Goodbye, Kate. Miss Jo
owes me one, so you are finished," cried Fred excitedly, as they
all drew near to see the finish.

"Yankees have a trick of being generous to their enemies,"
said Jo, with a look that made the lad redden, "especially when
they beat them," she added, as, leaving Kate’s ball untouched, she
won the game by a clever stroke.

Laurie threw up his hat, then remembered that it wouldn’t do
to exult over the defeat of his guests, and stopped in the middle
of the cheer to whisper to his friend, "Good for you, Jo! He did
cheat, I saw him. We can’t tell him so, but he won’t do it again,
take my word for it."

Meg drew her aside, under pretense of pinning up a loose
braid, and said approvingly, "It was dreadfully provoking, but you
kept your temper, and I’m so glad, Jo."

"Don’t praise me, Meg, for I could box his ears this minute.
I should certainly have boiled over if I hadn’t stayed among the
nettles till I got my rage under control enough to hold my tongue.
It’s simmering now, so I hope he’ll keep out of my way," returned
Jo, biting her lips as she glowered at Fred from under her big hat.

"Time for lunch," said Mr. Brooke, looking at his watch.
"Commissary general, will you make the fire and get water, while
Miss March, Miss Sallie, and I spread the table? Who can make good
coffee?"

"Jo can," said Meg, glad to recommend her sister. So Jo,
feeling that her late lessons in cookery were to do her honor, went
to preside over the coffeepot, while the children collected dry
sticks, and the boys made a fire and got water from a spring near
by. Miss Kate sketched and Frank talked to Beth, who was making
little mats of braided rushes to serve as plates.

The commander in chief and his aides soon spread the
tablecloth with an inviting array of eatables and drinkables,
prettily decorated with green leaves. Jo announced that the coffee
was ready, and everyone settled themselves to a hearty meal, for youth
is seldom dyspeptic, and exercise develops wholesome appetites.
A very merry lunch it was, for everything seemed fresh and funny, and
frequent peals of laughter startled a venerable horse who fed near
by. There was a pleasing inequality in the table, which produced
many mishaps to cups and plates, acorns dropped in the milk, little
black ants partook of the refreshments without being invited, and
fuzzy caterpillars swung down from the tree to see what was going
on. Three white-headed children peeped over the fence, and an
objectionable dog barked at them from the other side of the river
with all his might and main.

"There’s salt here," said Laurie, as he handed Jo a saucer
of berries.

"Thank you, I prefer spiders," she replied, fishing up two
unwary little ones who had gone to a creamy death. "How dare
you remind me of that horrid dinner party, when yours is so
nice in every way?" added Jo, as they both laughed and ate out
of one plate, the china having run short.

"I had an uncommonly good time that day, and haven’t got
over it yet. This is no credit to me, you know, I don’t do
anything. It’s you and Meg and Brooke who make it all go, and
I’m no end obliged to you. What shall we do when we can’t eat
anymore?" asked Laurie, feeling that his trump card had been
played when lunch was over.

"Have games till it’s cooler. I brought Authors, and I dare
say Miss Kate knows something new and nice. Go and ask her. She’s
company, and you ought to stay with her more."

"Aren’t you company too? I thought she’d suit Brooke, but
he keeps talking to Meg, and Kate just stares at them through that
ridiculous glass of hers. I’m going, so you needn’t try to preach
propriety, for you can’t do it, Jo."

Miss Kate did know several new games, and as the girls would
not, and the boys could not, eat any more, they all adjourned to
the drawing room to play Rig-marole.

"One person begins a story, any nonsense you like, and tells
as long as he pleases, only taking care to stop short at some
exciting point, when the next takes it up and does the same. It’s
very funny when well done, and makes a perfect jumble of tragical
comical stuff to laugh over. Please start it, Mr. Brooke," said
Kate, with a commanding air, which surprised Meg, who treated the
tutor with as much respect as any other gentleman.

Lying on the grass at the feet of the two young ladies, Mr.
Brooke obediently began the story, with the handsome brown eyes
steadily fixed upon the sunshiny river.

"Once on a time, a knight went out into the world to seek
his fortune, for he had nothing but his sword and his shield.
He traveled a long while, nearly eight-and-twenty years, and
had a hard time of it, till he came to the palace of a good old
king, who had offered a reward to anyone who could tame and train
a fine but unbroken colt, of which he was very fond. The knight
agreed to try, and got on slowly but surely, for the colt was a
gallant fellow, and soon learned to love his new master, though
he was freakish and wild. Every day, when he gave his lessons to
this pet of the king’s, the knight rode him through the city, and
as he rode, he looked everywhere for a certain beautiful face,
which he had seen many times in his dreams, but never found. One
day, as he went prancing down a quiet street, he saw at the window
of a ruinous castle the lovely face. He was delighted, inquired
who lived in this old castle, and was told that several captive
princesses were kept there by a spell, and spun all day to lay
up money to buy their liberty. The knight wished intensely that
he could free them, but he was poor and could only go by each
day, watching for the sweet face and longing to see it out in
the sunshine. At last he resolved to get into the castle and
ask how he could help them. He went and knocked. The great
door flew open, and he beheld . . ."

"A ravishingly lovely lady, who exclaimed, with a cry of
rapture, ‘At last! At last!’" continued Kate, who had read
French novels, and admired the style. "’Tis she!’ cried Count
Gustave, and fell at her feet in an ecstasy of joy. ‘Oh, rise!’
she said, extending a hand of marble fairness. ‘Never! Till you
tell me how I may rescue you,’ swore the knight, still kneeling.
‘Alas, my cruel fate condemns me to remain here till my tyrant
is destroyed.’ ‘Where is the villain?’ ‘In the mauve salon. Go,
brave heart, and save me from despair.’ ‘I obey, and return
victorious or dead!’ With these thrilling words he rushed away,
and flinging open the door of the mauve salon, was about to enter,
when he received . . ."

"A stunning blow from the big Greek lexicon, which an old
fellow in a black gown fired at him," said Ned. "Instantly, Sir
What’s-his-name recovered himself, pitched the tyrant out of the
window, and turned to join the lady, victorious, but with a bump
on his brow, found the door locked, tore up the curtains, made a
rope ladder, got halfway down when the ladder broke, and he went
headfirst into the moat, sixty feet below. Could swim like a
duck, paddled round the castle till he came to a little door
guarded by two stout fellows, knocked their heads together till
they cracked like a couple of nuts, then, by a trifling exertion
of his prodigious strength, he smashed in the door, went up a
pair of stone steps covered with dust a foot thick, toads as big
as your fist, and spiders that would frighten you into hysterics,
Miss March. At the top of these steps he came plump upon a sight
that took his breath away and chilled his blood . . ."

"A tall figure, all in white with a veil over its face and a
lamp in its wasted hand," went on Meg. "It beckoned, gliding
noiselessly before him down a corridor as dark and cold as any
tomb. Shadowy effigies in armor stood on either side, a dead
silence reigned, the lamp burned blue, and the ghostly figure ever
and anon turned its face toward him, showing the glitter of awful
eyes through its white veil. They reached a curtained door, behind
which sounded lovely music. He sprang forward to enter, but the
specter plucked him back, and waved threateningly before him a . . ."

"Snuffbox," said Jo, in a sepulchral tone, which convulsed the
audience. "’Thankee,’ said the knight politely, as he took a pinch
and sneezed seven times so violently that his head fell off. ‘Ha!
Ha!’ laughed the ghost, and having peeped through the keyhole at the
princesses spinning away for dear life, the evil spirit picked up
her victim and put him in a large tin box, where there were eleven
other knights packed together without their heads, like sardines,
who all rose and began to . . ."

"Dance a hornpipe," cut in Fred, as Jo paused for breath, "and,
as they danced, the rubbishy old castle turned to a man-of-war in
full sail. ‘Up with the jib, reef the tops’l halliards, helm hard
alee, and man the guns!’ roared the captain, as a Portuguese pirate
hove in sight, with a flag black as ink flying from her foremast.
‘Go in and win, my hearties!’ says the captain, and a tremendous
fight began. Of course the British beat – they always do."

"No, they don’t!" cried Jo, aside.

"Having taken the pirate captain prisoner, sailed slap over
the schooner, whose decks were piled high with dead and whose
lee scuppers ran blood, for the order had been ‘Cutlasses, and
die hard!’ ‘Bosun’s mate, take a bight of the flying-jib sheet,
and start this villain if he doesn’t confess his sins double
quick,’ said the British captain. The Portuguese held his tongue
like a brick, and walked the plank, while the jolly tars cheered
like mad. But the sly dog dived, came up under the man-of-war,
scuttled her, and down she went, with all sail set, ‘To the
bottom of the sea, sea, sea’ where . . ."

"Oh, gracious! What shall I say?" cried Sallie, as Fred
ended his rigmarole, in which he had jumbled together pell-mell
nautical phrases and facts out of one of his favorite books.
"Well, they went to the bottom, and a nice mermaid welcomed them,
but was much grieved on finding the box of headless knights, and
kindly pickled them in brine, hoping to discover the mystery
about them, for being a woman, she was curious. By-and-by a diver
came down, and the mermaid said, ‘I’ll give you a box of pearls
if you can take it up,’ for she wanted to restore the poor things
to life, and couldn’t raise the heavy load herself. So the diver
hoisted it up, and was much disappointed on opening it to find
no pearls. He left it in a great lonely field, where it was
found by a . . ."

"Little goose girl, who kept a hundred fat geese in the field,"
said Amy, when Sallie’s invention gave out. "The little girl was
sorry for them, and asked an old woman what she should do to help
them. ‘Your geese will tell you, they know everything.’ said the
old woman. So she asked what she should use for new heads, since
the old ones were lost, and all the geese opened their hundred
mouths and screamed . . ."

"’Cabbages!’" continued Laurie promptly. "’Just the thing,’
said the girl, and ran to get twelve fine ones from her garden.
She put them on, the knights revived at once, thanked her, and
went on their way rejoicing, never knowing the difference, for
there were so many other heads like them in the world that no one
thought anything of it. The knight in whom I’m interested went back
to find the pretty face, and learned that the princesses had spun
themselves free and all gone and married, but one. He was in a
great state of mind at that, and mounting the colt, who stood by
him through thick and thin, rushed to the castle to see which was
left. Peeping over the hedge, he saw the queen of his affections
picking flowers in her garden. ‘Will you give me a rose?’ said
he. ‘You must come and get it. I can’t come to you, it isn’t
proper,’ said she, as sweet as honey. He tried to climb over
the hedge, but it seemed to grow higher and higher. Then he
tried to push through, but it grew thicker and thicker, and he
was in despair. So he patiently broke twig after twig till he
had made a little hole through which he peeped, saying imploringly,
‘Let me in! Let me in!’ But the pretty princess did not seem
to understand, for she picked her roses quietly, and left him
to fight his way in. Whether he did or not, Frank will tell you."

"I can’t. I’m not playing, I never do," said Frank, dismayed
at the sentimental predicament out of which he was to rescue the
absurd couple. Beth had disappeared behind Jo, and Grace was
asleep.

"So the poor knight is to be left sticking in the hedge, is
he?" asked Mr. Brooke, still watching the river, and playing
with the wild rose in his buttonhole.

"I guess the princess gave him a posy, and opened the gate
after a while," said Laurie, smiling to himself, as he threw
acorns at his tutor.

"What a piece of nonsense we have made! With practice we
might do something quite clever. Do you know Truth?"

"I hope so," said Meg soberly.

"The game, I mean?"

"What is it?" said Fred.

"Why, you pile up your hands, choose a number, and draw out
in turn, and the person who draws at the number has to answer
truly any question put by the rest. It’s great fun."

"Let’s try it," said Jo, who liked new experiments.

Miss Kate and Mr. Brooke, Meg, and Ned declined, but Fred,
Sallie, Jo, and Laurie piled and drew, and the lot fell to Laurie.

"Who are your heroes?" asked Jo.

"Grandfather and Napoleon."

"Which lady here do you think prettiest?" said Sallie.

"Margaret."

"Which do you like best?" from Fred.

"Jo, of course."

"What silly questions you ask!" And Jo gave a disdainful
shrug as the rest laughed at Laurie’s matter-of-fact tone.

"Try again. Truth isn’t a bad game," said Fred.

"It’s a very good one for you," retorted Jo in a low voice.
Her turn came next.

"What is your greatest fault?" asked Fred, by way of testing
in her the virtue he lacked himself.

"A quick temper."

"What do you most wish for?" said Laurie.

"A pair of boot lacings," returned Jo, guessing and defeating his
purpose.

"Not a true answer. You must say what you really do want most."

"Genius. Don’t you wish you could give it to me, Laurie?"
And she slyly smiled in his disappointed face.

"What virtues do you most admire in a man?" asked Sallie.

"Courage and honesty."

"Now my turn," said Fred, as his hand came last.

"Let’s give it to him," whispered Laurie to Jo, who nodded
and asked at once . . .

"Didn’t you cheat at croquet?"

"Well, yes, a little bit."

"Good! Didn’t you take your story out of The Sea Lion?"
said Laurie.

"Rather."

"Don’t you think the English nation perfect in every respect?"
asked Sallie.

"I should be ashamed of myself if I didn’t."

"He’s a true John Bull. Now, Miss Sallie, you shall have
a chance without waiting to draw. I’ll harrrow up your feelings
first by asking if you don’t think you are something of a flirt,"
said Laurie, as Jo nodded to Fred as a sign that peace was declared.

"You impertinent boy! Of course I’m not," exclaimed Sallie,
with an air that proved the contrary.

"What do you hate most?" asked Fred.

"Spiders and rice pudding."

"What do you like best?" asked Jo.

"Dancing and French gloves."

"Well, I think Truth is a very silly play. Let’s have a
sensible game of Authors to refresh our minds," proposed Jo.

Ned, Frank, and the little girls joined in this, and while it
went on, the three elders sat apart, talking. Miss Kate took out
her sketch again, and Margaret watched her, while Mr. Brooke lay
on the grass with a book, which he did not read.

"How beautifully you do it! I wish I could draw," said Meg,
with mingled admiration and regret in her voice.

"Why don’t you learn? I should think you had taste and talent
for it," replied Miss Kate graciously.

"I haven’t time."

"Your mamma prefers other accomplishments, I fancy. So did
mine, but I proved to her that I had talent by taking a few lessons
privately, and then she was quite willing I should go on. Can’t
you do the same with your governess?"

"I have none."

"I forgot young ladies in America go to school more than with
us. Very fine schools they are, too, Papa says. You go to a
private one, I suppose?"

"I don’t go at all. I am a governess myself."

"Oh, indeed!" said Miss Kate, but she might as well have said,
"Dear me, how dreadful!" for her tone implied it, and something in
her face made Meg color, and wish she had not been so frank.

Mr. Brooke looked up and said quickly, "Young ladies in America
love independence as much as their ancestors did, and are admired
and respected for supporting themselves."

"Oh, yes, of course it’s very nice and proper in them to do
so. We have many most respectable and worthy young women who do
the same and are employed by the nobility, because, being the
daughters of gentlemen, they are both well bred and accomplished,
you know," said Miss Kate in a patronizing tone that hurt Meg’s
pride, and made her work seem not only more distasteful, but
degrading.

"Did the German song suit, Miss March?" inquired Mr. Brooke,
breaking an awkward pause.

"Oh, yes! It was very sweet, and I’m much obliged to whoever
translated it for me." And Meg’s downcast face brightened as she spoke.

"Don’t you read German?" asked Miss Kate with a look of surprise.

"Not very well. My father, who taught me, is away, and I don’t
get on very fast alone, for I’ve no one to correct my pronunciation."

"Try a little now. Here is Schiller’s Mary Stuart and a tutor who
loves to teach." And Mr. Brooke laid his book on her lap with
an inviting smile.

"It’s so hard I’m afraid to try," said Meg, grateful, but bashful
in the presence of the accomplished young lady beside her.

"I’ll read a bit to encourage you." And Miss Kate read one
of the most beautiful passages in a perfectly correct but
perfectly expressionless manner.

Mr. Brooke made no comment as she returned the book to Meg,
who said innocently, "I thought it was poetry."

"Some of it is. Try this passage."

There was a queer smile about Mr. Brooke’s mouth as he
opened at poor Mary’s lament.

Meg obediently following the long grass-blade which her new
tutor used to point with, read slowly and timidly, unconsciously
making poetry of the hard words by the soft intonation of her
musical voice. Down the page went the green guide, and presently,
forgetting her listener in the beauty of the sad scene, Meg read
as if alone, giving a little touch of tragedy to the words of the
unhappy queen. If she had seen the brown eyes then, she would
have stopped short, but she never looked up, and the lesson was
not spoiled for her.

"Very well indeed!" said Mr. Brooke, as she paused, quite ignoring
her many mistakes, and looking as if he did indeed love to teach.

Miss Kate put up her glass, and, having taken a survey of
the little tableau before her, shut her sketch book, saying with
condescension, "You’ve a nice accent and in time will be a clever
reader. I advise you to learn, for German is a valuable
accomplishment to teachers. I must look after Grace, she is romping."
And Miss Kate strolled away, adding to herself with a shrug, "I
didn’t come to chaperone a governess, though she is young and
pretty. What odd people these Yankees are. I’m afraid Laurie
will be quite spoiled among them."

"I forgot that English people rather turn up their noses at
governesses and don’t treat them as we do," said Meg, looking
after the retreating figure with an annoyed expression.

"Tutors also have rather a hard time of it there, as I know
to my sorrow. There’s no place like America for us workers, Miss
Margaret." And Mr. Brooke looked so contented and cheerful that
Meg was ashamed to lament her hard lot.

"I’m glad I live in it then. I don’t like my work, but I get
a good deal of satisfaction out of it after all, so I won’t complain.
I only wished I liked teaching as you do."

"I think you would if you had Laurie for a pupil. I shall
be very sorry to lose him next year," said Mr. Brooke, busily
punching holes in the turf.

"Going to college, I suppose?" Meg’s lips asked the question,
but her eyes added, "And what becomes of you?"

"Yes, it’s high time he went, for he is ready, and as soon as
he is off, I shall turn soldier. I am needed."

"I am glad of that!" exclaimed Meg. "I should think every
young man would want to go, though it is hard for the mothers
and sisters who stay at home," she added sorrowfully.

"I have neither, and very few friends to care whether I live
or die," said Mr. Brooke rather bitterly as he absently put the
dead rose in the hole he had made and covered it up, like a
little grave.

"Laurie and his grandfather would care a great deal, and we
should all be very sorry to have any harm happen to you," said
Meg heartily.

"Thank you, that sounds pleasant," began Mr. Brooke, looking
cheerful again, but before he could finish his speech, Ned, mounted
on the old horse, came lumbering up to display his equestrian skill
before the young ladies, and there was no more quiet that day.

"Don’t you love to ride?" asked Grace of Amy, as they stood
resting after a race round the field with the others, led by Ned.

"I dote upon it. My sister, Meg, used to ride when Papa was
rich, but we don’t keep any horses now, except Ellen Tree," added
Amy, laughing.

"Tell me about Ellen Tree. Is it a donkey?" asked Grace
curiously.

"Why, you see, Jo is crazy about horses and so am I, but
we’ve only got an old sidesaddle and no horse. Out in our
garden is an apple tree that has a nice low branch, so Jo put
the saddle on it, fixed some reins on the part that turns up,
and we bounce away on Ellen Tree whenever we like."

"How funny!" laughed Grace. "I have a pony at home, and
ride nearly every day in the park with Fred and Kate. It’s very
nice, for my friends go too, and the Row is full of ladies and
gentlemen."

"Dear, how charming! I hope I shall go abroad some day,
but I’d rather go to Rome than the Row," said Amy, who had
not the remotest idea what the Row was and wouldn’t have asked
for the world.

Frank, sitting just behind the little girls, heard what they
were saying, and pushed his crutch away from him with an impatient
gesture as he watched the active lads going through all sorts of
comical gymnastics. Beth, who was collecting the scattered
Author cards, looked up and said, in her shy yet friendly way,
"I’m afraid you are tired. Can I do anything for you?"

"Talk to me, please. It’s dull, sitting by myself," answered
Frank, who had evidently been used to being made much of at home.

If he asked her to deliver a Latin oration, it would not
have seemed a more impossible task to bashful Beth, but there
was no place to run to, no Jo to hide behind now, and the poor
boy looked so wistfully at her that she bravely resolved to try.

"What do you like to talk about?" she asked, fumbling over
the cards and dropping half as she tried to tie them up.

"Well, I like to hear about cricket and boating and hunting,"
said Frank, who had not yet learned to suit his amusements to
his strength.

My heart! What shall I do? I don’t know anything about them,
thought Beth, and forgetting the boy’s misfortune in her flurry,
she said, hoping to make him talk, "I never saw any hunting, but
I suppose you know all about it."

"I did once, but I can never hunt again, for I got hurt leaping
a confounded five-barred gate, so there are no more horses and
hounds for me," said Frank with a sigh that made Beth hate herself
for her innocent blunder.

"Your deer are much prettier than our ugly buffaloes," she
said, turning to the prairies for help and feeling glad that she
had read one of the boys’ books in which Jo delighted.

Buffaloes proved soothing and satisfactory, and in her eagerness
to amuse another, Beth forgot herself, and was quite unconscious
of her sisters’ surprise and delight at the unusual spectacle
of Beth talking away to one of the dreadful boys, against whom she
had begged protection.

"Bless her heart! She pities him, so she is good to him,"
said Jo, beaming at her from the croquet ground.

"I always said she was a little saint," added Meg, as if
there could be no further doubt of it.

"I haven’t heard Frank laugh so much for ever so long," said
Grace to Amy, as they sat discussing dolls and making tea sets
out of the acorn cups.

"My sister Beth is a very fastidious girl, when she likes to be,"
said Amy, well pleased at Beth’s success. She meant ‘facinating’,
but as Grace didn’t know the exact meaning of either word,
fastidious sounded well and made a good impression.

An impromptu circus, fox and geese, and an amicable game of
croquet finished the afternoon. At sunset the tent was struck,
hampers packed, wickets pulled up, boats loaded, and the whole
party floated down the river, singing at the tops of their voices.
Ned, getting sentimental, warbled a serenade with the pensive
refrain . . .

Alone, alone, ah! Woe, alone,

and at the lines . . .

We each are young, we each have a heart,

Oh, why should we stand thus coldly apart?

he looked at Meg with such a lackadiasical expression that she
laughed outright and spoiled his song.

"How can you be so cruel to me?" he whispered, under cover
of a lively chorus. "You’ve kept close to that starched-up
Englishwoman all day, and now you snub me."

"I didn’t mean to, but you looked so funny I really couldn’t
help it," replied Meg, passing over the first part of his reproach,
for it was quite true that she had shunned him, remembering the
Moffat party and the talk after it.

Ned was offended and turned to Sallie for consolation, saying
to her rather pettishly, "There isn’t a bit of flirt in that girl,
is there?"

"Not a particle, but she’s a dear," returned Sallie, defending
her friend even while confessing her shortcomings.

"She’s not a stricken deer anyway," said Ned, trying to be
witty, and succeeding as well as very young gentlemen usually do.

On the lawn where it had gathered, the little party separated
with cordial good nights and good-bys, for the Vaughns were going
to Canada. As the four sisters went home through the garden, Miss
Kate looked after them, saying, without the patronizing tone in
her voice, "In spite of their demonstrative manners, American girls
are very nice when one knows them."

"I quite agree with you," said Mr. Brooke.

 

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