FictionForest

Chapter 43 – Surprises

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

Light off Small Medium Large

Jo was alone in the twilight, lying on the old sofa, looking
at the fire, and thinking. It was her favorite way of spending
the hour of dusk. No one disturbed her, and she used to lie
there on Beth’s little red pillow, planning stories, dreaming
dreams, or thinking tender thoughts of the sister who never seemed
far away. Her face looked tired, grave, and rather sad, for tomorrow
was her birthday, and she was thinking how fast the years
went by, how old she was getting, and how little she seemed to
have accomplished. Almost twenty-five, and nothing to show for
it. Jo was mistaken in that. There was a good deal to show,
and by-and-by she saw, and was grateful for it.

"An old maid, that’s what I’m to be. A literary spinster,
with a pen for a spouse, a family of stories for children, and
twenty years hence a morsel of fame, perhaps, when, like poor
Johnson, I’m old and can’t enjoy it, solitary, and can’t share
it, independent, and don’t need it. Well, I needn’t be a sour
saint nor a selfish sinner, and, I dare say, old maids are very
comfortable when they get used to it, but . . ." and there Jo
sighed, as if the prospect was not inviting.

It seldom is, at first, and thirty seems the end of all things
to five-and-twenty. But it’s not as bad as it looks, and one can
get on quite happily if one has something in one’s self to fall
back upon. At twenty-five, girls begin to talk about being old
maids, but secretly resolve that they never will be. At thirty
they say nothing about it, but quietly accept the fact, and if
sensible, console themselves by remembering that they have twenty
more useful, happy years, in which they may be learning to grow
old gracefully. Don’t laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for
often very tender, tragic romances are hidden away in the hearts
that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices
of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces
beautiful in God’s sight. Even the sad, sour sisters should
be kindly dealt with, because they have missed the sweetest
part of life, if for no other reason. And looking at them
with compassion, not contempt, girls in their bloom should remember
that they too may miss the blossom time. That rosy cheeks
don’t last forever, that silver threads will come in the bonnie
brown hair, and that, by-and-by, kindness and respect will be as
sweet as love and admiration now.

Gentlemen, which means boys, be courteous to the old maids,
no matter how poor and plain and prim, for the only chivalry
worth having is that which is the readiest to pay deference to
the old, protect the feeble, and serve womankind, regardless of
rank, age, or color. Just recollect the good aunts who have not
only lectured and fussed, but nursed and petted, too often without
thanks, the scrapes they have helped you out of, the tips
they have given you from their small store, the stitches the
patient old fingers have set for you, the steps the willing old
feet have taken, and gratefully pay the dear old ladies the little
attentions that women love to receive as long as they live. The
bright-eyed girls are quick to see such traits, and will like you
all the better for them, and if death, almost the only power that
can part mother and son, should rob you of yours, you will be sure
to find a tender welcome and maternal cherishing from some Aunt
Priscilla, who has kept the warmest corner of her lonely old heart
for ‘the best nevvy in the world’.

Jo must have fallen asleep (as I dare say my reader has during
this little homily), for suddenly Laurie’s ghost seemed to
stand before her, a substantial, lifelike ghost, leaning over her
with the very look he used to wear when he felt a good deal and
didn’t like to show it. But, like Jenny in the ballad . . .

She could not think it he

and lay staring up at him in startled silence, till he stooped
and kissed her. Then she knew him, and flew up, crying joyfully . . .

"Oh my Teddy! Oh my Teddy!"

"Dear Jo, you are glad to see me, then?"

"Glad! My blessed boy, words can’t express my gladness.
Where’s Amy?"

"Your mother has got her down at Meg’s. We stopped there by
the way, and there was no getting my wife out of their clutches."

"Your what?" cried Jo, for Laurie uttered those two words
with an unconscious pride and satisfaction which betrayed him.

"Oh, the dickens! Now I’ve done it," and he looked so
guilty that Jo was down on him like a flash.

"You’ve gone and got married!"

"Yes, please, but I never will again," and he went down
upon his knees, with a penitent clasping of hands, and a face
full of mischief, mirth, and triumph.

"Actually married?"

"Very much so, thank you."

"Mercy on us. What dreadful thing will you do next?" and
Jo fell into her seat with a gasp.

"A characteristic, but not exactly complimentary, congratulation,"
returned Laurie, still in an abject attitude, but beaming
with satisfaction.

"What can you expect, when you take one’s breath away, creeping
in like a burglar, and letting cats out of bags like that? Get
up, you ridiculous boy, and tell me all about it."

"Not a word, unless you let me come in my old place, and
promise not to barricade."

Jo laughed at that as she had not done for many a long day,
and patted the sofa invitingly, as she said in a cordial tone,
"The old pillow is up garret, and we don’t need it now. So, come
and ‘fess, Teddy."

"How good it sounds to hear you say ‘Teddy’! No one ever calls
me that but you," and Laurie sat down with an air of great content.

"What does Amy call you?"

"My lord."

"That’s like her. Well, you look it," and Jo’s eye plainly
betrayed that she found her boy comelier than ever.

The pillow was gone, but there was a barricade, nevertheless,
a natural one, raised by time, absence, and change of heart. Both
felt it, and for a minute looked at one another as if that invisible
barrier cast a little shadow over them. It was gone directly
however, for Laurie said, with a vain attempt at dignity . . .

"Don’t I look like a married man and the head of a family?"

"Not a bit, and you never will. You’ve grown bigger and
bonnier, but you are the same scapegrace as ever."

"Now really, Jo, you ought to treat me with more respect,"
began Laurie, who enjoyed it all immensely.

"How can I, when the mere idea of you, married and settled,
is so irresistibly funny that I can’t keep sober!" answered Jo,
smiling all over her face, so infectiously that they had another
laugh, and then settled down for a good talk, quite in the pleasant
old fashion.

"It’s no use your going out in the cold to get Amy, for
they are all coming up presently. I couldn’t wait. I wanted to
be the one to tell you the grand surprise, and have ‘first skim’
as we used to say when we squabbled about the cream."

"Of course you did, and spoiled your story by beginning at
the wrong end. Now, start right, and tell me how it all happened.
I’m pining to know."

"Well, I did it to please Amy," began Laurie, with a twinkle
that made Jo exclaim . . .

"Fib number one. Amy did it to please you. Go on, and tell
the truth, if you can, sir."

"Now she’s beginning to marm it. Isn’t it jolly to hear her?"
said Laurie to the fire, and the fire glowed and sparkled as if it
quite agreed. "It’s all the same, you know, she and I being one.
We planned to come home with the Carrols, a month or more ago, but
they suddenly changed their minds, and decided to pass another
winter in Paris. But Grandpa wanted to come home. He went to please
me, and I couldn’t let him go alone, neither could I leave Amy, and
Mrs. Carrol had got English notions about chaperons and such nonsense,
and wouldn’t let Amy come with us. So I just settled the difficulty
by saying, ‘Let’s be married, and then we can do as we like’."

"Of course you did. You always have things to suit you."

"Not always," and something in Laurie’s voice made Jo say
hastily . . .

"How did you ever get Aunt to agree?"

"It was hard work, but between us, we talked her over, for we
had heaps of good reasons on our side. There wasn’t time to write
and ask leave, but you all liked it, had consented to it by-and-by,
and it was only ‘taking time by the fetlock’, as my wife says."

"Aren’t we proud of those two words, and don’t we like to say
them?" interrupted Jo, addressing the fire in her turn, and watching
with delight the happy light it seemed to kindle in the eyes
that had been so tragically gloomy when she saw them last.

"A trifle, perhaps, she’s such a captivating little woman I
can’t help being proud of her. Well, then Uncle and Aunt were
there to play propriety. We were so absorbed in one another we
were of no mortal use apart, and that charming arrangement would
make everything easy all round, so we did it."

"When, where, how?" asked Jo, in a fever of feminine interest
and curiosity, for she could not realize it a particle.

"Six weeks ago, at the American consul’s, in Paris, a very
quiet wedding of course, for even in our happiness we didn’t forget
dear little Beth."

Jo put her hand in his as he said that, and Laurie gently
smoothed the little red pillow, which he remembered well.

"Why didn’t you let us know afterward?" asked Jo, in a
quieter tone, when they had sat quite still a minute.

"We wanted to surprise you. We thought we were coming
directly home, at first, but the dear old gentleman, as soon as
we were married, found he couldn’t be ready under a month, at
least, and sent us off to spend our honeymoon wherever we liked.
Amy had once called Valrosa a regular honeymoon home, so we went
there, and were as happy as people are but once in their lives.
My faith! Wasn’t it love among the roses!"

Laurie seemed to forget Jo for a minute, and Jo was glad of
it, for the fact that he told her these things so freely and so
naturally assured her that he had quite forgiven and forgotten.
She tried to draw away her hand, but as if he guessed the thought
that prompted the half-involuntary impulse, Laurie held it fast,
and said, with a manly gravity she had never seen in him before . . .

"Jo, dear, I want to say one thing, and then we’ll put it by
forever. As I told you in my letter when I wrote that Amy had
been so kind to me, I never shall stop loving you, but the love
is altered, and I have learned to see that it is better as it is.
Amy and you changed places in my heart, that’s all. I think it
was meant to be so, and would have come about naturally, if I had
waited, as you tried to make me, but I never could be patient, and
so I got a heartache. I was a boy then, headstrong and violent,
and it took a hard lesson to show me my mistake. For it was one,
Jo, as you said, and I found it out, after making a fool of myself.
Upon my word, I was so tumbled up in my mind, at one time, that I
didn’t know which I loved best, you or Amy, and tried to love you
both alike. But I couldn’t, and when I saw her in Switzerland,
everything seemed to clear up all at once. You both got into
your right places, and I felt sure that it was well off with the
old love before it was on with the new, that I could honestly
share my heart between sister Jo and wife Amy, and love them dearly.
Will you believe it, and go back to the happy old times when we
first knew one another?"

"I’ll believe it, with all my heart, but, Teddy, we never can
be boy and girl again. The happy old times can’t come back, and we
mustn’t expect it. We are man and woman now, with sober work to do,
for playtime is over, and we must give up frolicking. I’m sure you
feel this. I see the change in you, and you’ll find it in me. I
shall miss my boy, but I shall love the man as much, and admire
him more, because he means to be what I hoped he would. We can’t
be little playmates any longer, but we will be brother and sister,
to love and help one another all our lives, won’t we, Laurie?"

He did not say a word, but took the hand she offered him, and
laid his face down on it for a minute, feeling that out of the
grave of a boyish passion, there had risen a beautiful, strong
friendship to bless them both. Presently Jo said cheerfully, for
she didn’t want the coming home to be a sad one, "I can’t make it true
that you children are really married and going to set up housekeeping.
Why, it seems only yesterday that I was buttoning Amy’s pinafore,
and pulling your hair when you teased. Mercy me, how time does fly!"

"As one of the children is older than yourself, you needn’t
talk so like a grandma. I flatter myself I’m a ‘gentleman growed’
as Peggotty said of David, and when you see Amy, you’ll find her
rather a precocious infant," said Laurie, looking amused at her
maternal air.

"You may be a little older in years, but I’m ever so much
older in feeling, Teddy. Women always are, and this last year has
been such a hard one that I feel forty."

"Poor Jo! We left you to bear it alone, while we went pleasuring.
You are older. Here’s a line, and there’s another. Unless you smile,
your eyes look sad, and when I touched the cushion, just now,
I found a tear on it. You’ve had a great deal to bear,
and had to bear it all alone. What a selfish beast I’ve been!"
and Laurie pulled his own hair, with a remorseful look.

But Jo only turned over the traitorous pillow, and answered,
in a tone which she tried to make more cheerful, "No, I had Father
and Mother to help me, and the dear babies to comfort me, and the
thought that you and Amy were safe and happy, to make the troubles
here easier to bear. I am lonely, sometimes, but I dare say it’s
good for me, and . . ."

"You never shall be again," broke in Laurie, putting his arm
about her, as if to fence out every human ill. "Amy and I can’t
get on without you, so you must come and teach ‘the children’ to
keep house, and go halves in everything, just as we used to do,
and let us pet you, and all be blissfully happy and friendly
together."

"If I shouldn’t be in the way, it would be very pleasant. I
begin to feel quite young already, for somehow all my troubles
seemed to fly away when you came. You always were a comfort, Teddy,"
and Jo leaned her head on his shoulder, just as she did years ago,
when Beth lay ill and Laurie told her to hold on to him.

He looked down at her, wondering if she remembered the time,
but Jo was smiling to herself, as if in truth her troubles had
all vanished at his coming.

"You are the same Jo still, dropping tears about one minute,
and laughing the next. You look a little wicked now. What is it,
Grandma?"

"I was wondering how you and Amy get on together."

"Like angels!"

"Yes, of course, but which rules?"

"I don’t mind telling you that she does now, at least I let
her think so, it pleases her, you know. By-and-by we shall take
turns, for marriage, they say, halves one’s rights and doubles
one’s duties."

"You’ll go on as you begin, and Amy will rule you all the
days of your life."

"Well, she does it so imperceptibly that I don’t think I shall
mind much. She is the sort of woman who knows how to rule well. In
fact, I rather like it, for she winds one round her finger as softly
and prettily as a skein of silk, and makes you feel as if she was
doing you a favor all the while."

"That ever I should live to see you a henpecked husband and
enjoying it!" cried Jo, with uplifted hands.

It was good to see Laurie square his shoulders, and smile with
masculine scorn at that insinuation, as he replied, with his "high
and mighty" air, "Amy is too well-bred for that, and I am not the
sort of man to submit to it. My wife and I respect ourselves and
one another too much ever to tyrannize or quarrel."

Jo liked that, and thought the new dignity very becoming, but
the boy seemed changing very fast into the man, and regret mingled
with her pleasure.

"I am sure of that. Amy and you never did quarrel as we used to.
She is the sun and I the wind, in the fable, and the sun managed
the man best, you remember."

"She can blow him up as well as shine on him," laughed Laurie.
"such a lecture as I got at Nice! I give you my word it was a deal
worse than any of your scoldings, a regular rouser. I’ll tell you
all about it sometime, she never will, because after telling me that
she despised and was ashamed of me, she lost her heart to the despicable
party and married the good-for-nothing."

"What baseness! Well, if she abuses you, come to me, and I’ll
defend you."

"I look as if I needed it, don’t I?" said Laurie, getting up
and striking an attitude which suddenly changed from the imposing
to the rapturous, as Amy’s voice was heard calling, "Where is she?
Where’s my dear old Jo?"

In trooped the whole family, and everyone was hugged and kissed
all over again, and after several vain attempts, the three wanderers
were set down to be looked at and exulted over. Mr. Laurence, hale
and hearty as ever, was quite as much improved as the others by his
foreign tour, for the crustiness seemed to be nearly gone, and the
old-fashioned courtliness had received a polish which made it kindlier
than ever. It was good to see him beam at ‘my children’, as he
called the young pair. It was better still to see Amy pay him
the daughterly duty and affection which completely won his old heart,
and best of all, to watch Laurie revolve about the two, as if never
tired of enjoying the pretty picture they made.

The minute she put her eyes upon Amy, Meg became conscious that
her own dress hadn’t a Parisian air, that young Mrs. Mofffat would be
entirely eclipsed by young Mrs. Laurence, and that ‘her ladyship’ was
altogether a most elegant and graceful woman. Jo thought, as she
watched the pair, "How well they look together! I was right, and
Laurie has found the beautiful, accomplished girl who will become
his home better than clumsy old Jo, and be a pride, not a torment to
him." Mrs. March and her husband smiled and nodded at each other
with happy faces, for they saw that their youngest had done well,
not only in worldly things, but the better wealth of love, confidence,
and happiness.

For Amy’s face was full of the soft brightness which betokens
a peaceful heart, her voice had a new tenderness in it, and the cool,
prim carriage was changed to a gentle dignity, both womanly and winning.
No little affectations marred it, and the cordial sweetness
of her manner was more charming than the new beauty or the old grace,
for it stamped her at once with the unmistakable sign of the true
gentlewoman she had hoped to become.

"Love has done much for our little girl," said her mother softly.

"She has had a good example before her all her life, my dear,"
Mr. March whispered back, with a loving look at the worn face and
gray head beside him.

Daisy found it impossible to keep her eyes off her ‘pitty aunty’,
but attached herself like a lap dog to the wonderful chatelaine full
of delightful charms. Demi paused to consider the new relationship
before he compromised himself by the rash acceptance of a bribe,
which took the tempting form of a family of wooden bears from Berne.
A flank movement produced an unconditional surrender, however, for
Laurie knew where to have him.

"Young man, when I first had the honor of making your acquaintance
you hit me in the face. Now I demand the satisfaction of a
gentleman," and with that the tall uncle proceeded to toss and
tousle the small nephew in a way that damaged his philosophical
dignity as much as it delighted his boyish soul.

"Blest if she ain’t in silk from head to foot; ain’t it a relishin’
sight to see her settin’ there as fine as a fiddle, and hear folks
calling little Amy ‘Mis. Laurence!’" muttered old Hannah, who could
not resist frequent "peeks" through the slide as she set the table
in a most decidedly promiscuous manner.

Mercy on us, how they did talk! first one, then the other, then all
burst out together – trying to tell the history of three years in
half an hour. It was fortunate that tea was at hand, to produce a
lull and provide refreshment – for they would have been hoarse and
faint if they had gone on much longer. Such a happy procession as
filed away into the little dining room! Mr. March proudly escorted
Mrs. Laurence. Mrs. March as proudly leaned on the arm of ‘my son’.
The old gentleman took Jo, with a whispered, "You must be my girl
now," and a glance at the empty corner by the fire, that made Jo
whisper back, "I’ll try to fill her place, sir."

The twins pranced behind, feeling that the millennium was at
hand, for everyone was so busy with the newcomers that they were
left to revel at their own sweet will, and you may be sure they
made the most of the opportunity. Didn’t they steal sips of tea,
stuff gingerbread ad libitum, get a hot biscuit apiece, and as a
crowning trespass, didn’t they each whisk a captivating little tart
into their tiny pockets, there to stick and crumble treacherously,
teaching them that both human nature and a pastry are frail?
Burdened with the guilty consciousness of the sequestered tarts,
and fearing that Dodo’s sharp eyes would pierce the thin disguise of
cambric and merino which hid their booty, the little sinners
attached themselves to ‘Dranpa’, who hadn’t his spectacles on. Amy,
who was handed about like refreshments, returned to the parlor on
Father Laurence’s arm. The others paired off as before, and this
arrangement left Jo companionless. She did not mind it at the
minute, for she lingered to answer Hannah’s eager inquiry.

"Will Miss Amy ride in her coop (coupe), and use all them
lovely silver dishes that’s stored away over yander?"

"Shouldn’t wonder if she drove six white horses, ate off gold
plate, and wore diamonds and point lace every day. Teddy thinks
nothing too good for her," returned Jo with infinite satisfaction.

"No more there is! Will you have hash or fishballs for breakfast?"
asked Hannah, who wisely mingled poetry and prose.

"I don’t care," and Jo shut the door, feeling that food was an
uncongenial topic just then. She stood a minute looking at the
party vanishing above, and as Demi’s short plaid legs toiled up the
last stair, a sudden sense of loneliness came over her so strongly
that she looked about her with dim eyes, as if to find something to
lean upon, for even Teddy had deserted her. If she had known what
birthday gift was coming every minute nearer and nearer, she would
not have said to herself, "I’ll weep a little weep when I go to bed.
It won’t do to be dismal now." Then she drew her hand over her eyes,
for one of her boyish habits was never to know where her
handkerchief was, and had just managed to call up a smile when
there came a knock at the porch door.

She opened with hospitable haste, and started as if another
ghost had come to surprise her, for there stood a tall bearded
gentleman, beaming on her from the darkness like a midnight sun.

"Oh, Mr. Bhaer, I am so glad to see you!" cried Jo, with a
clutch, as if she feared the night would swallow him up before
she could get him in.

"And I to see Miss Marsch, but no, you haf a party," and the
Professor paused as the sound of voices and the tap of dancing
feet came down to them.

"No, we haven’t, only the family. My sister and friends
have just come home, and we are all very happy. Come in, and
make one of us."

Though a very social man, I think Mr. Bhaer would have gone
decorously away, and come again another day, but how could he,
when Jo shut the door behind him, and bereft him of his hat?
Perhaps her face had something to do with it, for she forgot
to hide her joy at seeing him, and showed it with a frankness
that proved irresistible to the solitary man, whose welcome far
exceeded his boldest hopes.

"If I shall not be Monsieur de Trop, I will so gladly see
them all. You haf been ill, my friend?"

He put the question abruptly, for, as Jo hung up his coat,
the light fell on her face, and he saw a change in it.

"Not ill, but tired and sorrowful. We have had trouble
since I saw you last."

"Ah, yes, I know. My heart was sore for you when I heard
that," and he shook hands again, with such a sympathetic face
that Jo felt as if no comfort could equal the look of the kind
eyes, the grasp of the big, warm hand.

"Father, Mother, this is my friend, Professor Bhaer," she
said, with a face and tone of such irrepressible pride and
pleasure that she might as well have blown a trumpet and opened
the door with a flourish.

If the stranger had any doubts about his reception, they
were set at rest in a minute by the cordial welcome he received.
Everyone greeted him kindly, for Jo’s sake at first, but very
soon they liked him for his own. They could not help it, for
he carried the talisman that opens all hearts, and these simple
people warmed to him at once, feeling even the more friendly
because he was poor. For poverty enriches those who live above
it, and is a sure passport to truly hospitable spirits. Mr.
Bhaer sat looking about him with the air of a traveler who
knocks at a strange door, and when it opens, finds himself at
home. The children went to him like bees to a honeypot, and
establishing themselves on each knee, proceeded to captivate him
by rifling his pockets, pulling his beard, and investigating his
watch, with juvenile audacity. The women telegraphed their
approval to one another, and Mr. March, feeling that he had got
a kindred spirit, opened his choicest stores for his guest’s
benefit, while silent John listened and enjoyed the talk, but
said not a word, and Mr. Laurence found it impossible to go to
sleep.

If Jo had not been otherwise engaged, Laurie’s behavior
would have amused her, for a faint twinge, not of jealousy, but
something like suspicion, caused that gentleman to stand aloof
at first, and observe the newcomer with brotherly circumspection.
But it did not last long. He got interested in spite of himself,
and before he knew it, was drawn into the circle. For Mr. Bhaer
talked well in this genial atmosphere, and did himself justice.
He seldom spoke to Laurie, but he looked at him often, and a
shadow would pass across his face, as if regretting his own lost
youth, as he watched the young man in his prime. Then his eyes
would turn to Jo so wistfully that she would have surely answered
the mute inquiry if she had seen it. But Jo had her own eyes to
take care of, and feeling that they could not be trusted, she
prudently kept them on the little sock she was knitting, like a
model maiden aunt.

A stealthy glance now and then refreshed her like sips of
fresh water after a dusty walk, for the sidelong peeps showed
her several propitious omens. Mr. Bhaer’s face had lost the
absent-minded expression, and looked all alive with interest in
the present moment, actually young and handsome, she thought,
forgetting to compare him with Laurie, as she usually did strange
men, to their great detriment. Then he seemed quite inspired,
though the burial customs of the ancients, to which the conversation
had strayed, might not be considered an exhilarating topic.
Jo quite glowed with triumph when Teddy got quenched in
an argument, and thought to herself, as she watched her father’s
absorbed face, "How he would enjoy having such a man as my Professor
to talk with every day!" Lastly, Mr. Bhaer was dressed
in a new suit of black, which made him look more like a gentleman
than ever. His bushy hair had been cut and smoothly brushed, but
didn’t stay in order long, for in exciting moments, he rumpled
it up in the droll way he used to do, and Jo liked it rampantly
erect better than flat, because she thought it gave his fine
forehead a Jove-like aspect. Poor Jo, how she did glorify that
plain man, as she sat knitting away so quietly, yet letting
nothing escape her, not even the fact that Mr. Bhaer actually
had gold sleeve-buttons in his immaculate wristbands.

"Dear old fellow! He couldn’t have got himself up with more care if
he’d been going a-wooing," said Jo to herself, and then a sudden
thought born of the words made her blush so dreadfully that she had
to drop her ball, and go down after it to hide her face.

The maneuver did not succeed as well as she expected, however,
for though just in the act of setting fire to a funeral
pyre, the Professor dropped his torch, metaphorically speaking,
and made a dive after the little blue ball. Of course they
bumped their heads smartly together, saw stars, and both came
up flushed and laughing, without the ball, to resume their seats,
wishing they had not left them.

Nobody knew where the evening went to, for Hannah skillfully
abstracted the babies at an early hour, nodding like two rosy
poppies, and Mr. Laurence went home to rest. The others sat round
the fire, talking away, utterly regardless of the lapse of time,
till Meg, whose maternal mind was impressed with a firm conviction
that Daisy had tumbled out of bed, and Demi set his nightgown afire
studying the structure of matches, made a move to go.

"We must have our sing, in the good old way, for we are all
together again once more," said Jo, feeling that a good shout
would be a safe and pleasant vent for the jubilant emotions of
her soul.

They were not all there. But no one found the words thougtless
or untrue, for Beth still seemed among them, a peaceful presence,
invisible, but dearer than ever, since death could not break
the household league that love made disoluble. The little
chair stood in its old place. The tidy basket, with the bit of
work she left unfinished when the needle grew ‘so heavy’, was
still on its accustomed shelf. The beloved instrument, seldom
touched now had not been moved, and above it Beth’s face, serene
and smiling, as in the early days, looked down upon them, seeming
to say, "Be happy. I am here."

"Play something, Amy. Let them hear how much you have improved,"
said Laurie, with pardonable pride in his promising pupil.

But Amy whispered, with full eyes, as she twirled the faded
stool, "Not tonight, dear. I can’t show off tonight."

But she did show something better than brilliancy or skill,
for she sang Beth’s songs with a tender music in her voice which
the best master could not have taught, and touched the listener’s
hearts with a sweeter power than any other inspiration could have
given her. The room was very still, when the clear voice failed
suddenly at the last line of Beth’s favorite hymn. It was hard
to say . . .

Earth hath no sorrow that heaven cannot heal;

and Amy leaned against her husband, who stood behind her, feeling
that her welcome home was not quite perfect without Beth’s kiss.

"Now, we must finish with Mignon’s song, for Mr. Bhaer sings
that," said Jo, before the pause grew painful. And Mr. Bhaer
cleared his throat with a gratified "Hem!" as he stepped into the
corner where Jo stood, saying . . .

"You will sing with me? We go excellently well together."

A pleasing fiction, by the way, for Jo had no more idea of music
than a grasshopper. But she would have consented if he had proposed
to sing a whole opera, and warbled away, blissfully regardless of
time and tune. It didn’t much matter, for Mr. Bhaer sang like a true
German, heartily and well, and Jo soon subsided into a subdued hum,
that she might listen to the mellow voice that seemed to sing for
her alone.

Know’st thou the land where the citron blooms,

used to be the Professor’s favorite line, for ‘das land’ meant
Germany to him, but now he seemed to dwell, with peculiar warmth
and melody, upon the words . . .

There, oh there, might I with thee,

O, my beloved, go

and one listener was so thrilled by the tender invitation that she
longed to say she did know the land, and would joyfully depart
thither whenever he liked.

The song was considered a great success, and the singer retired
covered with laurels. But a few minutes afterward, he forgot his
manners entirely, and stared at Amy putting on her bonnet, for she
had been introduced simply as ‘my sister’, and no one had called
her by her new name since he came. He forgot himself still further
when Laurie said, in his most gracious manner, at parting . . .

"My wife and I are very glad to meet you, sir. Please remember
that there is always a welcome waiting for you over the way."

Then the Professor thanked him so heartily, and looked so
suddenly illuminated with satisfaction, that Laurie thought him
the most delightfully demonstrative old fellow he ever met.

"I too shall go, but I shall gladly come again, if you will
gif me leave, dear madame, for a little business in the city will
keep me here some days."

He spoke to Mrs. March, but he looked at Jo, and the mother’s
voice gave as cordial an assent as did the daughter’s eyes, for
Mrs. March was not so blind to her children’s interest as Mrs.
Moffat supposed.

"I suspect that is a wise man," remarked Mr. March, with
placid satisfaction, from the hearthrug, after the last guest had
gone.

"I know he is a good one," added Mrs. March, with decided
approval, as she wound up the clock.

"I thought you’d like him," was all Jo said, as she slipped
away to her bed.

She wondered what the business was that brought Mr. Bhaer to
the city, and finally decided that he had been appointed to some
great honor, somewhere, but had been too modest to mention the
fact. If she had seen his face when, safe in his own room, he
looked at the picture of a severe and rigid young lady, with a
good deal of hair, who appeared to be gazing darkly into futurity,
it might have thrown some light upon the subject, especially when
he turned off the gas, and kissed the picture in the dark.

 

Leave a Reply