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Chapter 21 – Laurie Makes Mischief, And Jo Makes Peace

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

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Jo’s face was a study next day, for the secret rather weighed
upon her, and she found it hard not to look mysterious and
important. Meg observed it, but did not trouble herself to make
inquiries, for she had learned that the best way to manage Jo was
by the law of contraries, so she felt sure of being told everything
if she did not ask. She was rather surprised, therefore,
when the silence remained unbroken, and Jo assumed a patronizing
air, which decidedly aggravated Meg, who in turn assumed an air
of dignified reserve and devoted herself to her mother. This left
Jo to her own devices, for Mrs. March had taken her place as nurse,
and bade her rest, exercise, and amuse herself after her long
confinement. Amy being gone, Laurie was her only refuge, and much
as she enjoyed his society, she rather dreaded him just then, for
he was an incorrigible tease, and she feared he would coax the
secret from her.

She was quite right, for the mischief-loving lad no sooner
suspected a mystery than he set himself to find it out, and led
Jo a trying life of it. He wheedled, bribed, ridiculed,
threatened, and scolded; affected indifference, that he might surprise
the truth from her; declared he knew, then that he didn’t care;
and at last, by dint of perseverance, he satisfied himself that
it concerned Meg and Mr. Brooke. Feeling indignant that he was
not taken into his tutor’s confidence, he set his wits to work
to devise some proper retaliation for the slight.

Meg meanwhile had apparently forgotten the matter and was
absorbed in preparations for her father’s return, but all of a
sudden a change seemed to come over her, and, for a day or two,
she was quite unlike herself. She started when spoken to,
blushed when looked at, was very quiet, and sat over her sewing,
with a timid, troubled look on her face. To her mother’s inquiries
she answered that she was quite well, and Jo’s she silenced by
begging to be let alone.

"She feels it in the air – love, I mean – and she’s going very
fast. She’s got most of the symptoms – is twittery and cross,
doesn’t eat, lies awake, and mopes in corners. I caught her
singing that song he gave her, and once she said ‘John’, as you
do, and then turned as red as a poppy. Whatever shall we do?"
said Jo, looking ready for any measures, however violent.

"Nothing but wait. Let her alone, be kind and patient, and
Father’s coming will settle everything," replied her mother.

"Here’s a note to you, Meg, all sealed up. How odd! Teddy
never seals mine," said Jo next day, as she distributed the
contents of the little post office.

Mrs. March and Jo were deep in their own affairs, when a
sound from Meg made them look up to see her staring at her
note with a frightened face.

"My child, what is it?" cried her mother, running to her,
while Jo tried to take the paper which had done the mischief.

"It’s all a mistake, he didn’t send it. Oh, Jo, how could
you do it?" and Meg hid her face in her hands, crying as if her
heart were quite broken.

"Me! I’ve done nothing! What’s she talking about?" cried
Jo, bewildered.

Meg’s mild eyes kindled with anger as she pulled a crumpled
note from her pocket and threw it at Jo, saying reproachfully,
"You wrote it, and that bad boy helped you. How could you be
so rude, so mean, and cruel to us both?"

Jo hardly heard her, for she and her mother were reading the
note, which was written in a peculiar hand.

"My Dearest Margaret,

"I can no longer restrain my passion, and must know my fate
before I return. I dare not tell your parents yet, but I think
they would consent if they knew that we adored one another. Mr.
Laurence will help me to some good place, and then, my sweet
girl, you will make me happy. I implore you to say nothing to
your family yet, but to send one word of hope through Laurie to,

"Your devoted John."

"Oh, the little villain! That’s the way he meant to pay me
for keeping my word to Mother. I’ll give him a hearty scolding
and bring him over to beg pardon," cried Jo, burning to execute
immediate justice. But her mother held her back, saying, with
a look she seldom wore . . .

"Stop, Jo, you must clear yourself first. You have played
so many pranks that I am afraid you have had a hand in this."

"On my word, Mother, I haven’t! I never saw that note
before, and don’t know anything about it, as true as I live!"
said Jo, so earnestly that they believed her. "If I had taken
part in it I’d have done it better than this, and have written
a sensible note. I should think you’d have known Mr. Brooke
wouldn’t write such stuff as that," she added, scornfully
tossing down the paper.

"It’s like his writing," faltered Meg, comparing it with the
note in her hand.

"Oh, Meg, you didn’t answer it?" cried Mrs. March quickly.

"Yes, I did!" and Meg hid her face again, overcome with shame.

"Here’s a scrape! Do let me bring that wicked boy over to
explain and be lectured. I can’t rest till I get hold of him."
And Jo made for the door again.

"Hush! Let me handle this, for it is worse than I thought.
Margaret, tell me the whole story," commanded Mrs. March, sitting
down by Meg, yet keeping hold of Jo, lest she should fly off.

"I received the first letter from Laurie, who didn’t look
as if he knew anything about it," began Meg, without looking up.
"I was worried at first and meant to tell you, then I remembered
how you liked Mr. Brooke, so I thought you wouldn’t mind if I
kept my little secret for a few days. I’m so silly that I liked
to think no one knew, and while I was deciding what to say, I
felt like the girls in books, who have such things to do. Forgive
me, Mother, I’m paid for my silliness now. I never can look him
in the face again."

"What did you say to him?" asked Mrs. March.

"I only said I was too young to do anything about it yet,
that I didn’t wish to have secrets from you, and he must speak
to father. I was very grateful for his kindness, and would be
his friend, but nothing more, for a long while."

Mrs. March smiled, as if well pleased, and Jo clapped her
hands, exclaiming, with a laugh, "You are almost equal to
Caroline Percy, who was a pattern of prudence! Tell on, Meg.
What did he say to that?"

"He writes in a different way entirely, telling me that he
never sent any love letter at all, and is very sorry that my
roguish sister, Jo, should take liberties with our names. It’s
very kind and respectful, but think how dreadful for me!"

Meg leaned against her mother, looking the image of despair,
and Jo tramped about the room, calling Laurie names. All of a
sudden she stopped, caught up the two notes, and after looking
at them closely, said decidedly, "I don’t believe Brooke ever
saw either of these letters. Teddy wrote both, and keeps yours
to crow over me with because I wouldn’t tell him my secret."

"Don’t have any secrets, Jo. Tell it to Mother and keep
out of trouble, as I should have done," said Meg warningly.

"Bless you, child! Mother told me."

"That will do, Jo. I’ll comfort Meg while you go and get
Laurie. I shall sift the matter to the bottom, and put a stop
to such pranks at once."

Away ran Jo, and Mrs. March gently told Meg Mr. Brooke’s
real feelings. "Now, dear, what are your own? Do you love him
enough to wait till he can make a home for you, or will you
keep yourself quite free for the present?"

"I’ve been so scared and worried, I don’t want to have
anything to do with lovers for a long while, perhaps never,"
answered Meg petulantly. "If John doesn’t know anything about
this nonsense, don’t tell him, and make Jo and Laurie hold their
tongues. I won’t be deceived and plagued and made a fool of.
It’s a shame!"

Seeing Meg’s usually gentle temper was roused and her
pride hurt by this mischievous joke, Mrs. March soothed her
by promises of entire silence and great discretion for the
future. The instant Laurie’s step was heard in the hall, Meg
fled into the study, and Mrs. March received the culprit alone.
Jo had not told him why he was wanted, fearing he wouldn’t come,
but he knew the minute he saw Mrs. March’s face, and stood
twirling his hat with a guilty air which convicted him at once.
Jo was dismissed, but chose to march up and down the hall like
a sentinel, having some fear that the prisoner might bolt. The
sound of voices in the parlor rose and fell for half an hour,
but what happened during that interview the girls never knew.

When they were called in, Laurie was standing by their
mother with such a penitent face that Jo forgave him on the
spot, but did not think it wise to betray the fact. Meg received
his humble apology, and was much comforted by the assurance that
Brooke knew nothing of the joke.

"I’ll never tell him to my dying day, wild horses shan’t
drag it out of me, so you’ll forgive me, Meg, and I’ll do
anything to show how out-and-out sorry I am," he added,
looking very much ashamed of himself.

"I’ll try, but it was a very ungentlemanly thing to do, I
didn’t think you could be so sly and malicious, Laurie," replied
Meg, trying to hide her maidenly confusion under a gravely
reproachful air.

"It was altogether abominable, and I don’t deserve to be
spoken to for a month, but you will, though, won’t you?" And
Laurie folded his hands together with such and imploring gesture,
as he spoke in his irresistibly persuasive tone, that it was
impossible to frown upon him in spite of his scandalous behavior.

Meg pardoned him, and Mrs. March’s grave face relaxed, in
spite of her efforts to keep sober, when she heard him declare
that he would atone for his sins by all sorts of penances, and
abase himself like a worm before the injured damsel.

Jo stood aloof, meanwhile, trying to harden her heart
against him, and succeeding only in primming up her face into
an expression of entire disapprobation. Laurie looked at her
once or twice, but as she showed no sign of relenting, he felt
injured, and turned his back on her till the others were done
with him, when he made her a low bow and walked off without a
word.

As soon as he had gone, she wished she had been more forgiving,
and when Meg and her mother went upstairs, she felt
lonely and longed for Teddy. After resisting for some time,
she yielded to the impulse, and armed with a book to return,
went over to the big house.

"Is Mr. Laurence in?" asked Jo, of a housemaid, who was
coming downstairs.

"Yes, Miss, but I don’t believe he’s seeable just yet."

"Why not? Is he ill?"

"La, no Miss, but he’s had a scene with Mr. Laurie, who is
in one of his tantrums about something, which vexes the old
gentleman, so I dursn’t go nigh him."

"Where is Laurie?"

"Shut up in his room, and he won’t answer, though I’ve been
a-tapping. I don’t know what’s to become of the dinner, for it’s
ready, and there’s no one to eat it."

"I’ll go and see what the matter is. I’m not afraid of either
of them."

Up went Jo, and knocked smartly on the door of Laurie’s
little study.

"Stop that, or I’ll open the door and make you!" called out
the young gentleman in a threatening tone.

Jo immediately knocked again. The door flew open, and in
she bounced before Laurie could recover from his surprise. Seeing
that he really was out of temper, Jo, who knew how to manage him,
assumed a contrite expression, and going artistically down upon
her knees, said meekly, "Please forgive me for being so cross. I
came to make it up, and can’t go away till I have."

"It’s all right. Get up, and don’t be a goose, Jo," was the
cavalier reply to her petition.

"Thank you, I will. Could I ask what’s the matter? You don’t
look exactly easy in your mind."

"I’ve been shaken, and I won’t bear it!" growled Laurie indignantly.

"Who did it?" demanded Jo.

"Grandfather. If it had been anyone else I’d have . . ."
And the injured youth finished his sentence by an energetic
gesture of the right arm.

"That’s nothing. I often shake you, and you don’t mind,"
said Jo soothingly.

"Pooh! You’re a girl, and it’s fun, but I’ll allow no man
to shake me!"

"I don’t think anyone would care to try it, if you looked
as much like a thundercloud as you do now. Why were you treated
so?"

"Just because I wouldn’t say what your mother wanted me for.
I’d promised not to tell, and of course I wasn’t going to break
my word."

"Couldn’t you satisfy your grandpa in any other way?"

"No, he would have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing
but the truth. I’d have told my part of the scrape, if I could
without bringing Meg in. As I couldn’t, I held my tongue, and
bore the scolding till the old gentleman collared me. Then I
bolted, for fear I should forget myself."

"It wasn’t nice, but he’s sorry, I know, so go down and
make up. I’ll help you."

"Hanged if I do! I’m not going to be lectured and pummelled
by everyone, just for a bit of a frolic. I was sorry about Meg,
and begged pardon like a man, but I won’t do it again,
when I wasn’t in the wrong."

"He didn’t know that."

"He ought to trust me, and not act as if I was a baby. It’s
no use, Jo, he’s got to learn that I’m able to take care of
myself, and don’t need anyone’s apron string to hold on by."

"What pepper pots you are!" sighed Jo. "How do you mean
to settle this affair?"

"Well, he ought to beg pardon, and believe me when I say I
can’t tell him what the fuss’s about."

"Bless you! He won’t do that."

"I won’t go down till he does."

"Now, Teddy, be sensible. Let it pass, and I’ll explain
what I can. You can’t stay here, so what’s the use of being
melodramatic?"

"I don’t intend to stay here long, anyway. I’ll slip off and
take a journey somewhere, and when Grandpa misses me he’ll come
round fast enough."

"I dare say, but you ought not to go and worry him."

"Don’t preach. I’ll go to Washington and see Brooke. It’s
gay there, and I’ll enjoy myself after the troubles."

"What fun you’d have! I wish I could run off too," said
Jo, forgetting her part of mentor in lively visions of martial
life at the capital.

"Come on, then! Why not? You go and surprise your father,
and I’ll stir up old Brooke. It would be a glorious joke. Let’s
do it, Jo. We’ll leave a letter saying we are all right, and trot
off at once. I’ve got money enough. It will do you good, and no
harm, as you go to your father."

For a moment Jo looked as if she would agree, for wild as
the plan was, it just suited her. She was tired of care and
confinement, longed for change, and thoughts of her father
blended temptingly with the novel charms of camps and hospitals,
liberty and fun. Her eyes kindled as they turned wistfully
toward the window, but they fell on the old house opposite,
and she shook her head with sorrowful decision.

"If I was a boy, we’d run away together, and have a capital time,
but as I’m a miserable girl, I must be proper and stop at home.
Don’t tempt me, Teddy, it’s a crazy plan."

"That’s the fun of it," began Laurie, who had got a willful
fit on him and was possessed to break out of bounds in some way.

"Hold your tongue!" cried Jo, covering her ears. "’Prunes
and prisms’ are my doom, and I may as well make up my mind to
it. I came here to moralize, not to hear things that make me
skip to think of."

"I know Meg would wet-blanket such a proposal, but I
thought you had more spirit," began Laurie insinuatingly.

"Bad boy, be quiet! Sit down and think of your own sins,
don’t go making me add to mine. If I get your grandpa to
apologize for the shaking, will you give up running away?"
asked Jo seriously.

"Yes, but you won’t do it," answered Laurie, who wished
to make up, but felt that his outraged dignity must be
appeased first.

"If I can manage the young one, I can the old one," muttered Jo,
as she walked away, leaving Laurie bent over a railroad map
with his head propped up on both hands.

"Come in!" and Mr. Laurence’s gruff voice sounded gruffer
than ever, as Jo tapped at his door.

"It’s only me, Sir, come to return a book," she said blandly,
as she entered.

"Want any more?" asked the old gentleman, looking grim and
vexed, but trying not to show it.

"Yes, please. I like old Sam so well, I think I’ll try the
second volume," returned Jo, hoping to propitiate him by
accepting a second dose of Boswell’s Johnson, as he had recommended
that lively work.

The shaggy eyebrows unbent a little as he rolled the steps
toward the shelf where the Johnsonian literature was placed. Jo
skipped up, and sitting on the top step, affected to be searching
for her book, but was really wondering how best to introduce the
dangerous object of her visit. Mr. Laurence seemed to suspect
that something was brewing in her mind, for after taking several
brisk turns about the room, he faced round on her, speaking so
abruptly that Rasselas tumbled face downward on the floor.

"What has that boy been about? Don’t try to shield him. I
know he has been in mischief by the way he acted when he came
home. I can’t get a word from him, and when I threatened to
shake the truth out of him he bolted upstairs and locked himself
into his room."

"He did wrong, but we forgave him, and all promised not to
say a word to anyone," began Jo reluctantly.

"That won’t do. He shall not shelter himself behind a promise
from you softhearted girls. If he’s done anything amiss, he
shall confess, beg pardon, and be punished. Out with it, Jo.
I won’t be kept in the dark."

Mr. Laurence looked so alarming and spoke so sharply that Jo
would have gladly run away, if she could, but she was perched aloft
on the steps, and he stood at the foot, a lion in the path, so she
had to stay and brave it out.

"Indeed, Sir, I cannot tell. Mother forbade it. Laurie has
confessed, asked pardon, and been punished quite enough. We don’t
keep silence to shield him, but someone else, and it will make
more trouble if you interfere. Please don’t. It was partly my
fault, but it’s all right now. So let’s forget it, and talk about
the Rambler or something pleasant."

"Hang the Rambler! Come down and give me your word that
this harum-scarum boy of mine hasn’t done anything ungrateful or
impertinent. If he has, after all your kindness to him, I’ll
thrash him with my own hands."

The threat sounded awful, but did not alarm Jo, for she knew
the irascible old gentleman would never lift a finger against his
grandson, whatever he might say to the contrary. She obediently
descended, and made as light of the prank as she could without
betraying Meg or forgetting the truth.

"Hum . . . ha . . . well, if the boy held his tongue
because he promised, and not from obstinacy, I’ll forgive him.
He’s a stubborn fellow and hard to manage," said Mr. Laurence,
rubbing up his hair till it looked as if he had been out in a gale,
and smoothing the frown from his brow with an air of relief.

"So am I, but a kind word will govern me when all the king’s
horses and all the king’s men couldn’t," said Jo, trying to say
a kind word for her friend, who seemed to get out of one scrape
only to fall into another.

"You think I’m not kind to him, hey?" was the sharp answer.

"Oh, dear no, Sir. You are rather too kind sometimes, and
then just a trifle hasty when he tries your patience. Don’t you
think you are?"

Jo was determined to have it out now, and tried to look
quite placid, though she quaked a little after her bold speech.
To her great relief and surprise, the old gentleman only threw
his spectacles onto the table with a rattle and exclaimed frankly,
"You’re right, girl, I am! I love the boy, but he tries my
patience past bearing, and I know how it will end, if we go on so."

"I’ll tell you, he’ll run away." Jo was sorry for that speech the
minute it was made. She meant to warn him that Laurie would not bear
much restraint, and hoped he would be more forebearing with the lad.

Mr. Laurence’s ruddy face changed suddenly, and he sat down,
with a troubled glance at the picture of a handsome man, which
hung over his table. It was Laurie’s father, who had run away
in his youth, and married against the imperious old man’s will.
Jo fancied he remembered and regretted the past, and she wished
she had held her tongue.

"He won’t do it unless he is very much worried, and only
threatens it sometimes, when he gets tired of studying. I often
think I should like to, especially since my hair was cut, so if
you ever miss us, you may advertise for two boys and look among
the ships bound for India."

She laughed as she spoke, and Mr. Laurence looked relieved,
evidently taking the whole as a joke.

"You hussy, how dare you talk in that way? Where’s your
respect for me, and your proper bringing up? Bless the boys
and girls! What torments they are, yet we can’t do without
them," he said, pinching her cheeks good-humoredly. "Go and
bring that boy down to his dinner, tell him it’s all right, and
advise him not to put on tragedy airs with his grandfather. I
won’t bear it."

"He won’t come, Sir. He feels badly because you didn’t believe him
when he said he couldn’t tell. I think the shaking hurt his feelings
very much."

Jo tried to look pathetic but must have failed, for Mr.
Laurence began to laugh, and she knew the day was won.

"I’m sorry for that, and ought to thank him for not shaking
me, I suppose. What the dickens does the fellow expect?" and
the old gentleman looked a trifle ashamed of his own testiness.

"If I were you, I’d write him an apology, Sir. He says he
won’t come down till he has one, and talks about Washington, and
goes on in an absurd way. A formal apology will make him see
how foolish he is, and bring him down quite amiable. Try it. He
likes fun, and this way is better than talking. I’ll carry it
up, and teach him his duty."

Mr. Laurence gave her a sharp look, and put on his spectacles,
saying slowly, "You’re a sly puss, but I don’t mind being
managed by you and Beth. Here, give me a bit of paper,
and let us have done with this nonsense."

The note was written in the terms which one gentleman would
use to another after offering some deep insult. Jo dropped a kiss
on the top of Mr. Laurence’s bald head, and ran up to slip the
apology under Laurie’s door, advising him through the keyhole to
be submissive, decorous, and a few other agreeable impossibilities.
Finding the door locked again, she left the note to do its work,
and was going quietly away, when the young gentleman slid down
the banisters, and waited for her at the bottom, saying, with his
most virtuous expression of countenance, "What a good fellow you
are, Jo! Did you get blown up?" he added, laughing.

"No, he was pretty mild, on the whole."

"Ah! I got it all round. Even you cast me off over there,
and I felt just ready to go to the deuce," he began apologetically.

"Don’t talk that way, turn over a new leaf and begin again,
Teddy, my son."

"I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I
used to spoil my copybooks, and I make so many beginnings there
never will be an end," he said dolefully.

"Go and eat your dinner, you’ll feel better after it. Men
always croak when they are hungry," and Jo whisked out at the
front door after that.

"That’s a ‘label’ on my ‘sect’," answered Laurie, quoting
Amy, as he went to partake of humble pie dutifully with his
grandfather, who was quite saintly in temper and overwhelmingly
respectful in manner all the rest of the day.

Everyone thought the matter ended and the little cloud
blown over, but the mischief was done, for though others forgot
it, Meg remembered. She never alluded to a certain person, but
she thought of him a good deal, dreamed dreams more than ever,
and once Jo, rummaging her sister’s desk for stamps, found a
bit of paper scribbled over with the words, ‘Mrs. John Brooke’,
whereat she groaned tragically and cast it into the fire, feeling
that Laurie’s prank had hastened the evil day for her.

 

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