FictionForest

Chapter 34 – Friend

Louisa May AlcottJun 23, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Though very happy in the social atmosphere about her, and very busy
with the daily work that earned her bread and made it sweeter for
the effort, Jo still found time for literary labors. The purpose
which now took possession of her was a natural one to a poor and
ambitious girl, but the means she took to gain her end were not the
best. She saw that money conferred power, money and power,
therefore, she resolved to have, not to be used for herself alone,
but for those whom she loved more than life. The dream of filling
home with comforts, giving Beth everything she wanted, from
strawberries in winter to an organ in her bedroom, going abroad
herself, and always having more than enough, so that she might
indulge in the luxury of charity, had been for years Jo’s most
cherished castle in the air.

The prize-story experience had seemed to open a way which
might, after long traveling and much uphill work, lead to this
delightful chateau en Espagne. But the novel disaster quenched
her courage for a time, for public opinion is a giant which has
frightened stouter-hearted Jacks on bigger beanstalks than hers.
Like that immortal hero, she reposed awhile after the first
attempt, which resulted in a tumble and the least lovely of the
giant’s treasures, if I remember rightly. But the ‘up again
and take another’ spirit was as strong in Jo as in Jack, so
she scrambled up on the shady side this time and got more
booty, but nearly left behind her what was far more precious
than the moneybags.

She took to writing sensation stories, for in those dark
ages, even all-perfect America read rubbish. She told no one,
but concocted a ‘thrilling tale’, and boldly carried it herself
to Mr. Dashwood, editor of the Weekly Volcano. She had
never read Sartor Resartus, but she had a womanly instinct
that clothes possess an influence more powerful over many
than the worth of character or the magic of manners. So she
dressed herself in her best, and trying to persuade herself
that she was neither excited nor nervous, bravely climbed two
pairs of dark and dirty stairs to find herself in a disorderly
room, a cloud of cigar smoke, and the presence of three gentlemen,
sitting with their heels rather higher than their hats,
which articles of dress none of them took the trouble to remove
on her appearance. Somewhat daunted by this reception, Jo hesitated
on the threshold, murmuring in much embarrassment . . .

"Excuse me, I was looking for the Weekly Volcano office.
I wished to see Mr. Dashwood."

Down went the highest pair of heels, up rose the smokiest
gentleman, and carefully cherishing his cigar between his
fingers, he advanced with a nod and a countenance expressive
of nothing but sleep. Feeling that she must get through the
matter somehow, Jo produced her manuscript and, blushing
redder and redder with each sentence, blundered out fragments
of the little speech carefully prepared for the occasion.

"A friend of mine desired me to offer – a story – just as
an experiment – would like your opinion – be glad to write more
if this suits."

While she blushed and blundered, Mr. Dashwood had taken
the manuscript, and was turning over the leaves with a pair
of rather dirty fingers, and casting critical glances up and
down the neat pages.

"Not a first attempt, I take it?" observing that the
pages were numbered, covered only on one side, and not tied
up with a ribbon – sure sign of a novice.

"No, sir. She has had some experience, and got a prize
for a tale in the Blarneystone Banner."

"Oh, did she?" and Mr. Dashwood gave Jo a quick look,
which seemed to take note of everything she had on, from the
bow in her bonnet to the buttons on her boots. "Well, you
can leave it, if you like. We’ve more of this sort of thing
on hand than we know what to do with at present, but I’ll run
my eye over it, and give you an answer next week."

Now, Jo did not like to leave it, for Mr. Dashwood didn’t
suit her at all, but, under the circumstances, there was nothing
for her to do but bow and walk away, looking particularly tall
and dignified, as she was apt to do when nettled or abashed.
Just then she was both, for it was perfectly evident from the
knowing glances exchanged among the gentlemen that her little
fiction of ‘my friend’ was considered a good joke, and a
laugh, produced by some inaudible remark of the editor, as
he closed the door, completed her discomfiture. Half resolving
never to return, she went home, and worked off her
irritation by stitching pinafores vigorously, and in an
hour or two was cool enough to laugh over the scene and long
for next week.

When she went again, Mr. Dashwood was alone, whereat she
rejoiced. Mr. Dashwood was much wider awake than before,
which was agreeable, and Mr. Dashwood was not too deeply absorbed
in a cigar to remember his manners, so the second
interview was much more comfortable than the first.

"We’ll take this (editors never say I), if you don’t
object to a few alterations. It’s too long, but omitting
the passages I’ve marked will make it just the right length,"
he said, in a businesslike tone.

Jo hardly knew her own MS. again, so crumpled and underscored
were its pages and paragraphs, but feeling as a tender
parent might on being asked to cut off her baby’s legs in
order that it might fit into a new cradle, she looked at the
marked passages and was surprised to find that all the moral
reflections – which she had carefully put in as ballast for
much romance – had been stricken out.

"But, Sir, I thought every story should have some sort of
a moral, so I took care to have a few of my sinners repent."

Mr. Dashwoods’s editorial gravity relaxed into a smile, for
Jo had forgotten her ‘friend’, and spoken as only an author
could.

"People want to be amused, not preached at, you know. Morals
don’t sell nowadays." Which was not quite a correct statement,
by the way.

"You think it would do with these alterations, then?"

"Yes, it’s a new plot, and pretty well worked up – language
good, and so on," was Mr. Dashwood’s affable reply.

"What do you – that is, what compensation – " began Jo, not
exactly knowing how to express herself.

"Oh, yes, well, we give from twenty-five to thirty for
things of this sort. Pay when it comes out," returned Mr. Dashwood,
as if that point had escaped him. Such trifles do escape
the editorial mind, it is said.

"Very well, you can have it," said Jo, handing back the
story with a satisfied air, for after the dollar-a-column work,
even twenty-five seemed good pay.

"Shall I tell my friend you will take another if she has one
better than this?" asked Jo, unconscious of her little slip of
the tongue, and emboldened by her success.

"Well, we’ll look at it. Can’t promise to take it. Tell her
to make it short and spicy, and never mind the moral. What name
would your friend like to put on it?" in a careless tone.

"None at all, if you please, she doesn’t wish her name to
appear and has no nom de plume," said Jo, blushing in spite of
herself.

"Just as she likes, of course. The tale will be out next week.
Will you call for the money, or shall I send it?" asked Mr. Dashwood,
who felt a natural desire to know who his new contributor might be.

"I’ll call. Good morning, Sir."

As she departed, Mr. Dashwood put up his feet, with the graceful
remark, "Poor and proud, as usual, but she’ll do."

Following Mr. Dashwood’s directions, and making Mrs. Northbury her
model, Jo rashly took a plunge into the frothy sea of sensational
literature, but thanks to the life preserver thrown her by a friend,
she came up again not much the worse for her ducking.

Like most young scribblers, she went abroad for her characters
and scenery, and banditti, counts, gypsies, nuns, and duchesses
appeared upon her stage, and played their parts with as
much accuracy and spirit as could be expected. Her readers
were not particular about such trifles as grammar, punctuation,
and probability, and Mr. Dashwood graciously permitted her to
fill his columns at the lowest prices, not thinking it necessary
to tell her that the real cause of his hospitality was the
fact that one of his hacks, on being offered higher wages, had
basely left him in the lurch.

She soon became interested in her work, for her emaciated
purse grew stout, and the little hoard she was making to take
Beth to the mountains next summer grew slowly but surely as
the weeks passed. One thing disturbed her satisfaction, and
that was that she did not tell them at home. She had a feeling
that Father and Mother would not approve, and preferred to have
her own way first, and beg pardon afterward. It was easy to
keep her secret, for no name appeared with her stories. Mr.
Dashwood had of course found it out very soon, but promised
to be dumb, and for a wonder kept his word.

She thought it would do her no harm, for she sincerely
meant to write nothing of which she would be ashamed, and
quieted all pricks of conscience by anticipations of the
happy minute when she should show her earnings and laugh over
her well-kept secret.

But Mr. Dashwood rejected any but thrilling tales, and as
thrills could not be produced except by harrowing up the souls
of the readers, history and romance, land and sea, science and
art, police records and lunatic asylums, had to be ransacked
for the purpose. Jo soon found that her innocent experience
had given her but few glimpses of the tragic world which
underlies society, so regarding it in a business light, she set
about supplying her deficiencies with characteristic energy.
Eager to find material for stories, and bent on making them
original in plot, if not masterly in execution, she searched
newspapers for accidents, incidents, and crimes. She excited
the suspicions of public librarians by asking for works on
poisons. She studied faces in the street, and characters,
good, bad, and indifferent, all about her. She delved in
the dust of ancient times for facts or fictions so old that
they were as good as new, and introduced herself to folly, sin,
and misery, as well as her limited opportunities allowed. She
thought she was prospering finely, but unconsciously she was
beginning to desecrate some of the womanliest attributes of a
woman’s character. She was living in bad society, and imaginary
though it was, its influence affected her, for she was
feeding heart and fancy on dangerous and unsubstantial food,
and was fast brushing the innocent bloom from her nature by
a premature acquaintance with the darker side of life, which
comes soon enough to all of us.

She was beginning to feel rather than see this, for much
describing of other people’s passions and feelings set her
to studying and speculating about her own, a morbid amusement
in which healthy young minds do not voluntarily indulge.
Wrongdoing always brings its own punishment, and when Jo
most needed hers, she got it.

I don’t know whether the study of Shakespeare helped her to read
character, or the natural instinct of a woman for what was honest,
brave, and strong, but while endowing her imaginary heroes with
every perfection under the sun, Jo was discovering a live hero, who
interested her in spite of many human imperfections. Mr. Bhaer, in
one of their conversations, had advised her to study simple, true,
and lovely characters, wherever she found them, as good training for
a writer. Jo took him at his word, for she coolly turned round and
studied him – a proceeding which would have much surprised him, had
he known it, for the worthy Professor was very humble in his own
conceit.

Why everybody liked him was what puzzled Jo, at first. He
was neither rich nor great, young nor handsome, in no respect
what is called fascinating, imposing, or brilliant, and yet
he was as attractive as a genial fire, and people seemed to
gather about him as naturally as about a warm hearth. He was
poor, yet always appeared to be giving something away; a
stranger, yet everyone was his friend; no longer young, but
as happy-hearted as a boy; plain and peculiar, yet his face
looked beautiful to many, and his oddities were freely forgiven
for his sake. Jo often watched him, trying to discover
the charm, and at last decided that it was benevolence which
worked the miracle. If he had any sorrow, ‘it sat with its
head under its wing’, and he turned only his sunny side to the
world. There were lines upon his forehead, but Time seemed
to have touched him gently, remembering how kind he was to
others. The pleasant curves about his mouth were the memorials
of many friendly words and cheery laughs, his eyes were never
cold or hard, and his big hand had a warm, strong grasp
that was more expressive than words.

His very clothes seemed to partake of the hospitable nature of the
wearer. They looked as if they were at ease, and liked to make him
comfortable. His capacious waistcoat was suggestive of a large heart
underneath. His rusty coat had a social air, and the baggy pockets
plainly proved that little hands often went in empty and came out
full. His very boots were benevolent, and his collars never stiff
and raspy like other people’s.

"That’s it!" said Jo to herself, when she at length discovered
that genuine good will toward one’s fellow men could beautify
and dignify even a stout German teacher, who shoveled in his dinner,
darned his own socks, and was burdened with the name of Bhaer.

Jo valued goodness highly, but she also possessed a most
feminine respect for intellect, and a little discovery which
she made about the Professor added much to her regard for him.
He never spoke of himself, and no one ever knew that in his
native city he had been a man much honored and esteemed for
learning and integrity, till a countryman came to see him.
He never spoke of himself, and in a conversation with Miss
Norton divulged the pleasing fact. From her Jo learned it,
and liked it all the better because Mr. Bhaer had never told
it. She felt proud to know that he was an honored Professor
in Berlin, though only a poor language-master in America,
and his homely, hard-working life was much beautified by the
spice of romance which this discovery gave it.
Another and a better gift than intellect was shown her in
a most unexpected manner. Miss Norton had the entree into
most society, which Jo would have had no chance of seeing but
for her. The solitary woman felt an interest in the ambitious
girl, and kindly conferred many favors of this sort both on Jo
and the Professor. She took them with her one night to a select
symposium, held in honor of several celebrities.

Jo went prepared to bow down and adore the mighty ones
whom she had worshiped with youthful enthusiasm afar off. But
her reverence for genius received a severe shock that night,
and it took her some time to recover from the discovery that
the great creatures were only men and women after all. Imagine
her dismay, on stealing a glance of timid admiration at the
poet whose lines suggested an ethereal being fed on ‘spirit,
fire, and dew’, to behold him devouring his supper with an
ardor which flushed his intellectual countenance. Turning
as from a fallen idol, she made other discoveries which
rapidly dispelled her romantic illusions. The great novelist
vibrated between two decanters with the regularity of a pendulum;
the famous divine flirted openly with one of the
Madame de Staels of the age, who looked daggers at another
Corinne, who was amiably satirizing her, after outmaneuvering
her in efforts to absorb the profound philosopher, who imbibed
tea Johnsonianly and appeared to slumber, the loquacity of the
lady rendering speech impossible. The scientific celebrities,
forgetting their mollusks and glacial periods, gossiped about
art, while devoting themselves to oysters and ices with
characteristic energy; the young musician, who was charming
the city like a second Orpheus, talked horses; and the specimen
of the British nobility present happened to be the most ordinary
man of the party.

Before the evening was half over, Jo felt so completely
disillusioned, that she sat down in a corner to recover herself.
Mr. Bhaer soon joined her, looking rather out of his element,
and presently several of the philosophers, each mounted on his
hobby, came ambling up to hold an intellectual tournament in
the recess. The conversations were miles beyond Jo’s comprehension,
but she enjoyed it, though Kant and Hegel were unknown
gods, the Subjective and Objective unintelligible terms, and
the only thing ‘evolved from her inner consciousness’ was a
bad headache after it was all over. It dawned upon her gradually
that the world was being picked to pieces, and put together on
new and, according to the talkers, on infinitely better principles
than before, that religion was in a fair way to be
reasoned into nothingness, and intellect was to be the only
God. Jo knew nothing about philosophy or metaphysics of any
sort, but a curious excitement, half pleasurable, half painful,
came over her as she listened with a sense of being turned
adrift into time and space, like a young balloon out on a holiday.

She looked round to see how the Professor liked it, and
found him looking at her with the grimmest expression she had
ever seen him wear. He shook his head and beckoned her to
come away, but she was fascinated just then by the freedom
of Speculative Philosophy, and kept her seat, trying to find
out what the wise gentlemen intended to rely upon after
they had annihilated all the old beliefs.

Now, Mr. Bhaer was a diffident man and slow to offer his
own opinions, not because they were unsettled, but too sincere
and earnest to be lightly spoken. As he glanced from Jo
to several other young people, attracted by the brilliancy
of the philosophic pyrotechnics, he knit his brows and longed
to speak, fearing that some inflammable young soul would be
led astray by the rockets, to find when the display was over
that they had only an empty stick or a scorched hand.

He bore it as long as he could, but when he was appealed
to for an opinion, he blazed up with honest indignation and
defended religion with all the eloquence of truth – an eloquence
which made his broken English musical and his plain
face beautiful. He had a hard fight, for the wise men argued
well, but he didn’t know when he was beaten and stood to his
colors like a man. Somehow, as he talked, the world got
right again to Jo. The old beliefs, that had lasted so long,
seemed better than the new. God was not a blind force, and
immortality was not a pretty fable, but a blessed fact. She
felt as if she had solid ground under her feet again, and
when Mr. Bhaer paused, outtalked but not one whit convinced,
Jo wanted to clap her hands and thank him.

She did neither, but she remembered the scene, and gave
the Professor her heartiest respect, for she knew it cost him
an effort to speak out then and there, because his conscience
would not let him be silent. She began to see that character
is a better possession than money, rank, intellect, or beauty,
and to feel that if greatness is what a wise man has defined
it to be, ‘truth, reverence, and good will’, then her friend
Friedrich Bhaer was not only good, but great.

This belief strengthened daily. She valued his esteem,
she coveted his respect, she wanted to be worthy of his friendship,
and just when the wish was sincerest, she came near to
losing everything. It all grew out of a cocked hat, for one
evening the Professor came in to give Jo her lesson with a
paper soldier cap on his head, which Tina had put there and
he had forgotten to take off.

"It’s evident he doesn’t look in his glass before coming
down," thought Jo, with a smile, as he said "Goot efening,"
and sat soberly down, quite unconscious of the ludicrous
contrast between his subject and his headgear, for he was
going to read her the Death of Wallenstein.

She said nothing at first, for she liked to hear him laugh
out his big, hearty laugh when anything funny happened, so she
left him to discover it for himself, and presently forgot all
about it, for to hear a German read Schiller is rather an absorbing
occupation. After the reading came the lesson, which
was a lively one, for Jo was in a gay mood that night, and
the cocked hat kept her eyes dancing with merriment. The
Professor didn’t know what to make of her, and stopped at
last to ask with an air of mild surprise that was irresistible. . .

"Mees Marsch, for what do you laugh in your master’s face?
Haf you no respect for me, that you go on so bad?"

"How can I be respectful, Sir, when you forget to take
your hat off?" said Jo.

Lifting his hand to his head, the absent-minded Professor
gravely felt and removed the little cocked hat, looked at it a
minute, and then threw back his head and laughed like a merry
bass viol.

"Ah! I see him now, it is that imp Tina who makes me a
fool with my cap. Well, it is nothing, but see you, if this
lesson goes not well, you too shall wear him."

But the lesson did not go at all for a few minutes because
Mr. Bhaer caught sight of a picture on the hat, and unfolding it,
said with great disgust, "I wish these papers did not come in the
house. They are not for children to see, nor young people to read.
It is not well, and I haf no patience with those who make this harm."

Jo glanced at the sheet and saw a pleasing illustration
composed of a lunatic, a corpse, a villain, and a viper. She
did not like it, but the impulse that made her turn it over
was not one of displeasure but fear, because for a minute
she fancied the paper was the Volcano. It was not, however,
and her panic subsided as she remembered that even if it
had been and one of her own tales in it, there would have
been no name to betray her. She had betrayed herself, however,
by a look and a blush, for though an absent man, the
Professor saw a good deal more than people fancied. He
knew that Jo wrote, and had met her down among the newspaper
offices more than once, but as she never spoke of it,
he asked no questions in spite of a strong desire to see her
work. Now it occurred to him that she was doing what she
was ashamed to own, and it troubled him. He did not say to
himself, "It is none of my business. I’ve no right to say
anything," as many people would have done. He only remembered
that she was young and poor, a girl far away from
mother’s love and father’s care, and he was moved to help
her with an impulse as quick and natural as that which
would prompt him to put out his hand to save a baby from
a puddle. All this flashed through his mind in a minute,
but not a trace of it appeared in his face, and by the
time the paper was turned, and Jo’s needle threaded, he
was ready to say quite naturally, but very gravely . . .

"Yes, you are right to put it from you. I do not think
that good young girls should see such things. They are made
pleasant to some, but I would more rather give my boys gunpowder
to play with than this bad trash."

"All may not be bad, only silly, you know, and if there
is a demand for it, I don’t see any harm in supplying it.
Many very respectable people make an honest living out of
what are called sensation stories," said Jo, scratching gathers
so energetically that a row of little slits followed her pin.

"There is a demand for whisky, but I think you and I do
not care to sell it. If the respectable people knew what harm
they did, they would not feel that the living was honest. They
haf no right to put poison in the sugarplum, and let the small
ones eat it. No, they should think a little, and sweep mud in
the street before they do this thing."

Mr. Bhaer spoke warmly, and walked to the fire, crumpling
the paper in his hands. Jo sat still, looking as if the fire
had come to her, for her cheeks burned long after the cocked
hat had turned to smoke and gone harmlessly up the chimney.

"I should like much to send all the rest after him," muttered
the Professor, coming back with a relieved air.

Jo thought what a blaze her pile of papers upstairs would make, and
her hard-earned money lay rather heavily on her conscience at that
minute. Then she thought consolingly to herself, "Mine are not like
that, they are only silly, never bad, so I won’t be worried," and
taking up her book, she said, with a studious face, "Shall we go on,
Sir? I’ll be very good and proper now."

"I shall hope so," was all he said, but he meant more than
she imagined, and the grave, kind look he gave her made her
feel as if the words Weekly Volcano were printed in large
type on her forehead.

As soon as she went to her room, she got out her papers,
and carefully reread every one of her stories. Being a little
shortsighted, Mr. Bhaer sometimes used eye glasses, and Jo
had tried them once, smiling to see how they magnified the
fine print of her book. Now she seemed to have on the Professor’s
mental or moral spectacles also, for the faults of these
poor stories glared at her dreadfully and filled her with dismay.

"They are trash, and will soon be worse trash if I go
on, for each is more sensational than the last. I’ve gone
blindly on, hurting myself and other people, for the sake of
money. I know it’s so, for I can’t read this stuff in sober
earnest without being horribly ashamed of it, and what should
I do if they were seen at home or Mr. Bhaer got hold of them?"

Jo turned hot at the bare idea, and stuffed the whole bundle
into her stove, nearly setting the chimney afire with the blaze.

"Yes, that’s the best place for such inflammable nonsense.
I’d better burn the house down, I suppose, than let other
people blow themselves up with my gunpowder," she thought as
she watched the Demon of the Jura whisk away, a little black
cinder with fiery eyes.

But when nothing remained of all her three month’s work
except a heap of ashes and the money in her lap, Jo looked
sober, as she sat on the floor, wondering what she ought to
do about her wages.

"I think I haven’t done much harm yet, and may keep this
to pay for my time," she said, after a long meditation, adding
impatiently, "I almost wish I hadn’t any conscience, it’s so
inconvenient. If I didn’t care about doing right, and didn’t
feel uncomfortable when doing wrong, I should get on capitally.
I can’t help wishing sometimes, that Mother and Father hadn’t
been so particular about such things."

Ah, Jo, instead of wishing that, thank God that ‘Father
and Mother were particular’, and pity from your heart those
who have no such guardians to hedge them round with principles
which may seem like prison walls to impatient youth,
but which will prove sure foundations to build character upon
in womanhood.

Jo wrote no more sensational stories, deciding that the
money did not pay for her share of the sensation, but going
to the other extreme, as is the way with people of her stamp,
she took a course of Mrs. Sherwood, Miss Edgeworth, and Hannah
More, and then produced a tale which might have been more
properly called an essay or a sermon, so intensely moral
was it. She had her doubts about it from the beginning, for
her lively fancy and girlish romance felt as ill at ease in the
new style as she would have done masquerading in the stiff
and cumbrous costume of the last century. She sent this didactic
gem to several markets, but it found no purchaser,
and she was inclined to agree with Mr. Dashwood that morals
didn’t sell.

Then she tried a child’s story, which she could easily have
disposed of if she had not been mercenary enough to demand filthy
lucre for it. The only person who offered enough to make it
worth her while to try juvenile literature was a worthy gentleman
who felt it his mission to convert all the world to his
particular belief. But much as she liked to write for children,
Jo could not consent to depict all her naughty boys as
being eaten by bears or tossed by mad bulls because they did
not go to a particular Sabbath school, nor all the good infants
who did go as rewarded by every kind of bliss, from gilded
gingerbread to escorts of angels when they departed this life
with psalms or sermons on their lisping tongues. So nothing
came of these trials, and Jo corked up her inkstand, and
said in a fit of very wholesome humility . . .

"I don’t know anything. I’ll wait until I do before I try
again, and meantime, ‘sweep mud in the street’ if I can’t do
better, that’s honest, at least." Which decision proved that
her second tumble down the beanstalk had done her some good.

While these internal revolutions were going on, her external
life had been as busy and uneventful as usual, and if she
sometimes looked serious or a little sad no one observed
it but Professor Bhaer. He did it so quietly that Jo never
knew he was watching to see if she would accept and profit by
his reproof, but she stood the test, and he was satisfied, for
though no words passed between them, he knew that she had
given up writing. Not only did he guess it by the fact that
the second finger of her right hand was no longer inky, but
she spent her evenings downstairs now, was met no more among
newspaper offices, and studied with a dogged patience, which
assured him that she was bent on occupying her mind with
something useful, if not pleasant.

He helped her in many ways, proving himself a true friend,
and Jo was happy, for while her pen lay idle, she was learning
other lessons besides German, and laying a foundation for the
sensation story of her own life.

It was a pleasant winter and a long one, for she did not
leave Mrs. Kirke till June. Everyone seemed sorry when the time
came. The children were inconsolable, and Mr. Bhaer’s hair
stuck straight up all over his head, for he always rumpled it
wildly when disturbed in mind.

"Going home? Ah, you are happy that you haf a home to go
in," he said, when she told him, and sat silently pulling his
beard in the corner, while she held a little levee on that last
evening.

She was going early, so she bade them all goodbye overnight,
and when his turn came, she said warmly, "Now, Sir, you won’t
forget to come and see us, if you ever travel our way, will you?
I’ll never forgive you if you do, for I want them all to know my
friend."

"Do you? Shall I come?" he asked, looking down at her with
an eager expression which she did not see.

"Yes, come next month. Laurie graduates then, and you’d
enjoy commencement as something new."

"That is your best friend, of whom you speak?" he said in
an altered tone.

"Yes, my boy Teddy. I’m very proud of him and should like
you to see him."

Jo looked up then, quite unconscious of anything but her
own pleasure in the prospect of showing them to one another.
Something in Mr. Bhaer’s face suddenly recalled the fact that
she might find Laurie more than a ‘best friend’, and simply
because she particularly wished not to look as if anything was
the matter, she involuntarily began to blush, and the more she
tried not to, the redder she grew. If it had not been for Tina
on her knee. She didn’t know what would have become of her.
Fortunately the child was moved to hug her, so she managed to
hide her face an instant, hoping the Professor did not see it.
But he did, and his own changed again from that momentary anxiety
to its usual expression, as he said cordially . . .

"I fear I shall not make the time for that, but I wish the friend
much success, and you all happiness. Gott bless you!" And with that,
he shook hands warmly, shouldered Tina, and went away.

But after the boys were abed, he sat long before his fire
with the tired look on his face and the ‘heimweh’, or homesickness,
lying heavy at his heart. Once, when he remembered
Jo as she sat with the little child in her lap and that new
softness in her face, he leaned his head on his hands a minute,
and then roamed about the room, as if in search of something
that he could not find.

"It is not for me, I must not hope it now," he said to himself,
with a sigh that was almost a groan. Then, as if reproaching
himself for the longing that he could not repress, he went
and kissed the two tousled heads upon the pillow, took down his
seldom-used meerschaum, and opened his Plato.

He did his best and did it manfully, but I don’t think he found
that a pair of rampant boys, a pipe, or even the divine Plato,
were very satisfactory substitutes for wife and child at home.

Early as it was, he was at the station next morning to see
Jo off, and thanks to him, she began her solitary journey with
the pleasant memory of a familiar face smiling its farewell, a
bunch of violets to keep her company, and best of all, the happy
thought, "Well, the winter’s gone, and I’ve written no books,
earned no fortune, but I’ve made a friend worth having and I’ll
try to keep him all my life."

 

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