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Chapter 20 – Confidential

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

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I don’t think I have any words in which to tell the meeting
of the mother and daughters. Such hours are beautiful to live,
but very hard to describe, so I will leave it to the imagination
of my readers, merely saying that the house was full of genuine
happiness, and that Meg’s tender hope was realized, for when Beth
woke from that long, healing sleep, the first objects on which
her eyes fell were the little rose and Mother’s face. Too weak
to wonder at anything, she only smiled and nestled close in the
loving arms about her, feeling that the hungry longing was
satisfied at last. Then she slept again, and the girls waited upon
their mother, for she would not unclasp the thin hand which
clung to hers even in sleep.

Hannah had ‘dished up’ an astonishing breakfast for the
traveler, finding it impossible to vent her excitement in any
other way, and Meg and Jo fed their mother like dutiful young
storks, while they listened to her whispered account of Father’s
state, Mr. Brooke’s promise to stay and nurse him, the delays
which the storm occasioned on the homeward journey, and the
unspeakable comfort Laurie’s hopeful face had given her when she
arrived, worn out with fatigue, anxiety, and cold.

What a strange yet pleasant day that was. So brilliant and
gay without, for all the world seemed abroad to welcome the first
snow. So quiet and reposeful within, for everyone slept, spent
with watching, and a Sabbath stillness reigned through the house,
while nodding Hannah mounted guard at the door. With a blissful
sense of burdens lifted off, Meg and Jo closed their weary eyes,
and lay at rest, like storm-beaten boats safe at anchor in a
quiet harbor. Mrs. March would not leave Beth’s side, but rested
in the big chair, waking often to look at, touch, and brood over
her child, like a miser over some recovered treasure.

Laurie meanwhile posted off to comfort Amy, and told his
story so well that Aunt March actually ‘sniffed’ herself, and
never once said "I told you so". Amy came out so strong on
this occasion that I think the good thoughts in the little chapel
really began to bear fruit. She dried her tears quickly,
restrained her impatience to see her mother, and never even thought
of the turquoise ring, when the old lady heartily agreed in Laurie’s
opinion, that she behaved ‘like a capital little woman’. Even
Polly seemed impressed, for he called her a good girl, blessed
her buttons, and begged her to "come and take a walk, dear", in
his most affable tone. She would very gladly have gone out to
enjoy the bright wintry weather, but discovering that Laurie
was dropping with sleep in spite of manful efforts to conceal
the fact, she persuaded him to rest on the sofa, while she wrote
a note to her mother. She was a long time about it, and when she
returned, he was stretched out with both arms under his head,
sound asleep, while Aunt March had pulled down the curtains and
sat doing nothing in an unusual fit of benignity.

After a while, they began to think he was not going to wake
up till night, and I’m not sure that he would, had he not been
effectually roused by Amy’s cry of joy at sight of her mother.
There probably were a good many happy little girls in and about
the city that day, but it is my private opinion that Amy was the
happiest of all, when she sat in her mother’s lap and told her
trials, receiving consolation and compensation in the shape of
approving smiles and fond caresses. They were alone together
in the chapel, to which her mother did not object when its
purpose was explained to her.

"On the contrary, I like it very much, dear," looking from
the dusty rosary to the well-worn little book, and the lovely
picture with its garland of evergreen. "It is an excellent plan
to have some place where we can go to be quiet, when things vex
or grieve us. There are a good many hard times in this life of
ours, but we can always bear them if we ask help in the right
way. I think my little girl is learning this."

"Yes, Mother, and when I go home I mean to have a corner
in the big closet to put my books and the copy of that picture
which I’ve tried to make. The woman’s face is not good, it’s
too beautiful for me to draw, but the baby is done better, and
I love it very much. I like to think He was a little child once,
for then I don’t seem so far away, and that helps me."

As Amy pointed to the smiling Christ child on his Mother’s
knee, Mrs. March saw something on the lifted hand that made her
smile. She said nothing, but Amy understood the look, and after
a minute’s pause, she added gravely, "I wanted to speak to you
about this, but I forgot it. Aunt gave me the ring today. She
called me to her and kissed me, and put it on my finger, and
said I was a credit to her, and she’d like to keep me always.
She gave that funny guard to keep the turquoise on, as it’s too
big. I’d like to wear them Mother, can I?"

"They are very pretty, but I think you’re rather too young
for such ornaments, Amy," said Mrs. March, looking at the plump
little hand, with the band of sky-blue stones on the forefinger,
and the quaint guard formed of two tiny golden hands clasped
together.

"I’ll try not to be vain," said Amy. "I don’t think I like
it only because it’s so pretty, but I want to wear it as the girl
in the story wore her bracelet, to remind me of something."

"Do you mean Aunt March?" asked her mother, laughing.

"No, to remind me not to be selfish." Amy looked so
earnest and sincere about it that her mother stopped laughing,
and listened respectfully to the little plan.

"I’ve thought a great deal lately about my ‘bundle of
naughties’, and being selfish is the largest one in it, so I’m
going to try hard to cure it, if I can. Beth isn’t selfish, and
that’s the reason everyone loves her and feels so bad at the
thoughts of losing her. People wouldn’t feel so bad about me
if I was sick, and I don’t deserve to have them, but I’d like
to be loved and missed by a great many friends, so I’m going
to try and be like Beth all I can. I’m apt to forget my
resolutions, but if I had something always about me to remind me,
I guess I should do better. May we try this way?"

"Yes, but I have more faith in the corner of the big closet.
Wear your ring, dear, and do your best. I think you will prosper,
for the sincere wish to be good is half the battle. Now I must
go back to Beth. Keep up your heart, little daughter, and we will
soon have you home again."

That evening while Meg was writing to her father to report
the traveler’s safe arrival, Jo slipped upstairs into Beth’s room,
and finding her mother in her usual place, stood a minute twisting
her fingers in her hair, with a worried gesture and an undecided
look.

"What is it, deary?" asked Mrs. March, holding out her hand,
with a face which invited confidence.

"I want to tell you something, Mother."

"About Meg?"

"How quickly you guessed! Yes, it’s about her, and though
it’s a little thing, it fidgets me."

"Beth is asleep. Speak low, and tell me all about it. That
Moffat hasn’t been here, I hope?" asked Mrs. March rather sharply.

"No. I should have shut the door in his face if he had,"
said Jo, settling herself on the floor at her mother’s feet. "Last
summer Meg left a pair of gloves over at the Laurences’ and only
one was returned. We forgot about it, till Teddy told me that Mr.
Brooke owned that he liked Meg but didn’t dare say so, she was so
young and he so poor. Now, isn’t it a dreadful state of things?"

"Do you think Meg cares for him?" asked Mrs. March, with an
anxious look.

"Mercy me! I don’t know anything about love and such
nonsense!" cried Jo, with a funny mixture of interest and contempt.
"In novels, the girls show it by starting and blushing, fainting
away, growing thin, and acting like fools. Now Meg does not do
anything of the sort. She eats and drinks and sleeps like a
sensible creature, she looks straight in my face when I talk
about that man, and only blushes a little bit when Teddy jokes
about lovers. I forbid him to do it, but he doesn’t mind me as
he ought."

"Then you fancy that Meg is not interested in John?"

"Who?" cried Jo, staring.

"Mr. Brooke. I call him ‘John’ now. We fell into the way
of doing so at the hospital, and he likes it."

"Oh, dear! I know you’ll take his part. He’s been good to
Father, and you won’t send him away, but let Meg marry him, if
she wants to. Mean thing! To go petting Papa and helping you,
just to wheedle you into liking him." And Jo pulled her hair
again with a wrathful tweak.

"My dear, don’t get angry about it, and I will tell you how
it happened. John went with me at Mr. Laurence’s request, and
was so devoted to poor Father that we couldn’t help getting fond
of him. He was perfectly open and honorable about Meg, for he
told us he loved her, but would earn a comfortable home before
he asked her to marry him. He only wanted our leave to love her
and work for her, and the right to make her love him if he could.
He is a truly excellent young man, and we could not refuse to
listen to him, but I will not consent to Meg’s engaging herself
so young."

"Of course not. It would be idiotic! I knew there was
mischief brewing. I felt it, and now it’s worse than I imagined.
I just wish I could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in the
family."

This odd arrangement made Mrs. March smile, but she said
gravely, "Jo, I confide in you and don’t wish you to say anything
to Meg yet. When John comes back, and I see them together, I can
judge better of her feelings toward him."

"She’ll see those handsome eyes that she talks about, and
then it will be all up with her. She’s got such a soft heart,
it will melt like butter in the sun if anyone looks sentimentlly
at her. She read the short reports he sent more than she did
your letters, and pinched me when I spoke of it, and likes brown
eyes, and doesn’t think John an ugly name, and she’ll go and fall
in love, and there’s an end of peace and fun, and cozy times together.
I see it all! They’ll go lovering around the house, and we shall
have to dodge. Meg will be absorbed and no good to me any more.
Brooke will scratch up a fortune somehow, carry her off,
and make a hole in the family, and I shall break my heart, and
everything will be abominably uncomfortable. Oh, dear me! Why
weren’t we all boys, then there wouldn’t be any bother."

Jo leaned her chin on her knees in a disconsolate attitude
and shook her fist at the reprehensible John. Mrs. March sighed,
and Jo looked up with an air of relief.

"You don’t like it, Mother? I’m glad of it. Let’s send him
about his business, and not tell Meg a word of it, but all be
happy together as we always have been."

"I did wrong to sigh, Jo. It is natural and right you should
all go to homes of your own in time, but I do want to keep my girls
as long as I can, and I am sorry that this happened so soon, for
Meg is only seventeen and it will be some years before John can
make a home for her. Your father and I have agreed that she shall
not bind herself in any way, nor be married, before twenty. If
she and John love one another, they can wait, and test the love
by doing so. She is conscientious, and I have no fear of her
treating him unkindly. My pretty, tender hearted girl! I hope
things will go happily with her."

"Hadn’t you rather have her marry a rich man?" asked Jo, as
her mother’s voice faltered a little over the last words.

"Money is a good and useful thing, Jo, and I hope my girls
will never feel the need of it too bitterly, nor be tempted by
too much. I should like to know that John was firmly established
in some good business, which gave him an income large enough to
keep free from debt and make Meg comfortable. I’m not ambitious
for a splendid fortune, a fashionable position, or a great name
for my girls. If rank and money come with love and virtue, also,
I should accept them gratefully, and enjoy your good fortune, but
I know, by experience, how much genuine happiness can be had in
a plain little house, where the daily bread is earned, and some
privations give sweetness to the few pleasures. I am content to
see Meg begin humbly, for if I am not mistaken, she will be rich
in the possession of a good man’s heart, and that is better than
a fortune."

"I understand, Mother, and quite agree, but I’m disappointed
about Meg, for I’d planned to have her marry Teddy by-and-by and
sit in the lap of luxury all her days. Wouldn’t it be nice?"
asked Jo, looking up with a brighter face.

"He is younger than she, you know," began Mrs. March, but Jo
broke in . . .

"Only a little, he’s old for his age, and tall, and can be
quite grown-up in his manners if he likes. Then he’s rich and
generous and good, and loves us all, and I say it’s a pity my
plan is spoiled."

"I’m afraid Laurie is hardly grown-up enough for Meg, and
altogether too much of a weathercock just now for anyone to
depend on. Don’t make plans, Jo, but let time and their own
hearts mate your friends. We can’t meddle safely in such
matters, and had better not get ‘romantic rubbish’ as you
call it, into our heads, lest it spoil our friendship."

"Well, I won’t, but I hate to see things going all crisscross
and getting snarled up, when a pull here and a snip there
would straighten it out. I wish wearing flatirons on our heads
would keep us from growing up. But buds will be roses, and
kittens cats, more’s the pity!"

"What’s that about flatirons and cats?" asked Meg, as she
crept into the room with the finished letter in her hand.

"Only one of my stupid speeches. I’m going to bed. Come,
Peggy," said Jo, unfolding herself like an animated puzzle.

"Quite right, and beautifully written. Please add that I
send my love to John," said Mrs. March, as she glanced over
the letter and gave it back.

"Do you call him ‘John’?" asked Meg, smiling, with her
innocent eyes looking down into her mother’s.

"Yes, he has been like a son to us, and we are very fond of him,"
replied Mrs. March, returning the look with a keen one.

"I’m glad of that, he is so lonely. Good night, Mother,
dear. It is so inexpressibly comfortable to have you here,"
was Meg’s answer.

The kiss her mother gave her was a very tender one, and
as she went away, Mrs. March said, with a mixture of satisfaction
and regret, "She does not love John yet, but will soon learn to."

 

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