Chapters 10-12

      (10) Summer vacation!

 "The first of June! The King family go to the seashore tomorrow, and I'm free! Three months' vacation!" exclaimed Meg, coming home one warm day to find Jo lying on the sofa exhausted, while Beth took off her boots, and Amy made lemonade for everyone.

"Aunt March went today, for which, oh, be joyful!" said Jo. "I was mortally afraid she'd ask me to go with her! I shook with fear until she was in the carriage, and almost fainted when, just as she left she put her head out the window, saying, 'Josyphine, won't you—?' I didn't hear any more because I ran way! I really did. I actually ran!"

"Poor old Jo! She came in looking as if bears were after her," said Beth.

"What will you do all your vacation?" asked Amy.

"I will lie in bed late, and do nothing," replied Meg. 

"No," said Jo, “sleeping doesn’t suit me. I’m going to sit in the old apple tree and read all day!"

“What do you think, mother?” asked Meg.  “Will you let us just rest and do nothing all summer?"

"You may try your experiment for a week and see how you like it. I think by Saturday night you will find that all play and no work is as bad as all work and no play."

"Oh, dear, no! It will be delicious, I'm sure," said Meg happily.

They began the experiment by doing nothing for the rest of the day. Next morning, Meg did not appear till ten o'clock. Her solitary breakfast did not taste good, and the room seemed lonely and dull, because Jo had not filled the flower vases, Beth had not dusted, and Amy's books were lying everywhere. Nothing was neat and pleasant but 'Marmee's corner', which looked as usual. And there Meg sat, to 'rest and read'. Jo spent the morning on the river with Laurie and the afternoon reading and crying over The Wide, Wide World, up in the apple tree. Beth went to her music, happy that she had no dishes to wash. Amy sat down to draw in the front yard, hoping someone would see and ask who the young artist was. No one came to see and, as it suddenly started to rain, she came in the house dripping wet.

At teatime they compared notes, and all agreed that it had been a delightful, but very long day. They assured their mother that the experiment was working well. She smiled, said nothing, and with Hannah's help did their neglected work, keeping home pleasant.  The days kept getting longer and longer. By the third day, Jo even wished she had gone with Aunt March. But no one would admit that they were tired of the experiment. Mrs. March, who had a good sense of humor, decided to give Hannah a holiday and let the girls enjoy the full effect of what life is like when no one does any work.

When they got up on Saturday morning, there was no fire in the kitchen, no breakfast in the dining room, and no mother anywhere to be seen.

“Heaven have mercy! What has happened?" cried Jo.

Finally, Meg and Jo fixed breakfast.  The boiled tea was very bitter, the omelet burned, and the biscuits too salty.  Nobody finished their breakfast.  Beth said she would try to make dinner which did not cheer anyone up.

Language cannot describe their dinner, no everyone tried not to laugh.  She had boiled the asparagus for an hour and was shocked to find the heads cooked off and the stalks harder than ever. The bread burned black. The salad had so much dressing that you couldn’t eat it. The potatoes had to be hurried, not to keep the asparagus waiting, and were not done.  And worst of all, she put salt instead of sugar in the dessert.

"What a dreadful day this has been!" said Jo.

And that was the last day of their “do-nothing” vacation!

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            (11) The picnic

 

Beth was postmistress, for, being most at home, she could attend to it regularly. She dearly liked the daily task of unlocking the little door and distributing the mail. One July day she came in with her hands full.

"Here's your posy [flower], Mother! Laurie never forgets that," she said.

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

"Why is there only one?" asked Meg, looking at the gray cotton glove.  "I hate to have odd gloves! My letter is only a translation of the German song I wanted. I think Mr. Brooke did it, for this isn't Laurie's writing."

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

"What a funny fellow Laurie is!,” answered Jo.  "I said I wished bigger hats were popular. He said, ‘What difference does it make if they’re popular? Wear a big hat, and be comfortable!' I said I would if I had one, and he has sent me this, to trick me. I'll wear it for fun, and show him I don't care about fashion.” Jo then read her letters. Laurie wrote...

Dear Jo, What ho!

Some English girls and boys are coming to see me tomorrow and I want to have a good time. I'm going to pitch my tent in Longmeadow. I’ll make a big picnic lunch and then we’ll play croquet. They are nice people. Brooke will go to keep us boys acting politely, and Kate Vaughn will take care of all you girls. I want you all to come, and Beth too! Don't bother about food, I'll see to that and everything else, only do come!

Yours ever, Laurie.

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

“Can we go, Mother?  We'll fly around  and do all our housework today, so that we can play tomorrow with free minds," said Jo.  But the girls didn’t wait for Marmee to answer. They just ran off laughing, thinking of the fun they’d have tomorrow!

When the sun peeped into the girls' room early next morning it was a good sign that the day would be successful. Beth, who was ready first, kept a lookout at the window, reporting what went on next door.

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

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

"A regular daisy. But put your hat on straight!  It will fly off at the first puff of wind that way. Now then, come on!"

"Oh, Jo, you are not going to wear that awful hat? It's too absurd!" cried Meg, as Jo put on the old hat Laurie had sent for a joke.

“Of course I will wear it! It will make people laugh." 

Laurie ran to meet and present them to his friends. Tents, lunch, and croquet equipment having been sent on beforehand, the party was soon got into two waiting boats pushed off together down the river. Laurie and Jo rowed one boat, Mr. Brooke and Ned the other. Jo's funny hat "broke the ice" in the beginning by making everyone laugh. 

Meg immediately took a liking to Mr. Brook. She liked his quiet manners and considered him a walking encyclopedia. He never talked to her much, but he looked at her a good deal.  Sallie Gardiner was absorbed in keeping her white dress clean. She was hoping everyone would notice it even though it was totally stupid to wear a white dress on a picnic.

"Welcome to Camp Laurence!" said Laurie, as they landed their boats at a beautiful spot down the river.

First they played croquet but, rather than being fun, everyone started to compete too seriously and then began to yell at each other!  Jo saw Fred cheat and made him turn red by telling him so in front of everyone.  Before things got too serious, Mr. Brooke looked at his watch and said, "Time for lunch! Who can make good coffee?"

"Jo can," said Meg, glad to be done with the unpleasant game. When Jo announced that the coffee was ready, everyone settled themselves to a hearty meal. A very merry lunch it was, for everything seems fresh and tasty when eaten outside.     

“There are a few ants here," said Laurie, as he handed Jo a saucer of berries.

"Thank you, I prefer spiders," she replied, fishing up two little ones who had died when she poured the cream on her berries.

Then everyone decided to play a game.  Kate explained the rules: "One person begins a story, anything you like, and tells it as long as he pleases.  He stops short at some exciting point, when the next person takes up the story and does the same. It's very funny when well done. Please start it, Mr. Brooke," said Kate.

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

"Once on a time, a knight went out into the world to seek his fortune. He had nothing but a sword and a shield. He traveled a long while, nearly eight-and-twenty years, and had a hard time of it, till he came to the palace of a good old king, who had offered a reward to anyone who could tame and train a fine but unbroken colt. The knight agreed to try. Every day the knight rode the young horse through the city, and as he rode, he looked everywhere for a certain beautiful face, which he had seen many times in his dreams. One day, as he went riding down a quiet street, he saw at the window of a castle the lovely face he had looked for for so long. He was delighted and asked who lived in this old castle.  He was told that several captive princesses were kept there by a spell, and spun all day to lay up money to buy their liberty. The knight wished that he could free them, but he was poor. At last he resolved to get into the castle and ask how he could help them. He went and knocked. The great door flew open, and he beheld . . . ."

"A beautiful lady who cried out, 'At last! At last!'" continued Kate, “A brave knight has come to save me!"

The knight fell at her feet full of joy. 

'Oh, rise!' she said, extending a hand of white fairness. ‘Never will I rise until you tell me how I may rescue you,’ said the knight, still kneeling. 

‘My cruel fate condemns me to remain here a prisoner until the tyrant is destroyed.’ 

'Where is the villain? . . . .' 

“But suddenly the tyrant appeared and threw a big Greek dictionary at the knight!" said Ned. "Instantly, the knight defended himself and threw the tyrant out of the window, and turned to join the lady, victorious, but with a bump on his head. . . ."

“Suddenly the knight heard the sound of lovely music,” went on Meg.  He ran forward toward the magical sound . . ."

“It came from a flock of geese outside,” said Amy happily even though it made no sense.

"'Cabbages!'" continued Laurie. “The knight loved geese and decided to feed them all cabbages.  And the knight and the geese lived happily ever after!"

"What a piece of nonsense we have made!,” said Mr. Brooke.  "With practice we might do something clever and not so stupid. Do you know Truth?"

"I hope so," said Meg soberly.

"The game, I mean?"

"What is it?" said Fred.

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

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

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

"Who are your heroes?" asked Jo.

"Grandfather and Napoleon."

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

"Margaret."

"Which do you like best?" from Fred.

"Jo, of course."

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

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

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

"What is your greatest fault?" asked Fred.

"A quick temper."

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

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

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

"Genius. Don't you wish you could give it to me, Laurie?" 

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

"Courage and honesty."

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

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

"Didn't you cheat at croquet?"

"Well, yes, a little bit."

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

"Rather."

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

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

Next it was Sallie’s turn.

"What do you hate most?" asked Fred.

"Spiders and rice pudding."

"What do you like best?" asked Jo.

"Dancing and French gloves."

"Well, I think Truth is a very silly game! How could anyone like dancing and French gloves best?!” said Jo.

After that, Jo just wished she could go home and read a good book!


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         (12)   The decision

 "November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year," said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frozen garden.

"That's the reason I was born in November," sighed Jo.

"If something very pleasant should happen now, we should think it a delightful month," said Beth, who took a hopeful view of everything. “In fact, two pleasant things are going to happen right away. Marmee is coming down the street, and Laurie is coming through the garden as if he has something to tell us."

In they both came, Mrs. March with her usual question, "Any letter from Father, girls?" and Laurie saying in his happy way, "Won't some of you come for a drive? I've been working away at mathematics till my head is in a muddle. Come, Jo, you and Beth will go, won't you?"

"Of course we will."

"We three will be ready in a minute," cried Amy, running away to wash her hands.

"Can I do anything for you, Madam Mother?" asked Laurie, leaning over Mrs. March's chair with the affectionate look and tone he always gave her.

"No, thank you, except call at the office, if you'll be so kind, dear. It's our day for a letter, and the postman hasn't been. Father is as regular as the sun, but there's some delay on the way, perhaps."

A sharp ring interrupted her, and a minute after Hannah came in with a letter.

"It's one of them horrid telegraph things, mum," she said, handling it as if she was afraid it would explode and do some damage.

At the word 'telegraph', Mrs. March grabbed it, read the two lines it contained, and dropped back into her chair as white as the little paper. Laurie dashed downstairs for water, while Meg and Hannah supported her, and Jo read aloud, in a frightened voice...

Mrs. March:
Your husband is very ill. Come at once.
S. HALE
Blank Hospital, Washington.

How still the room was as they listened without breathing, how strangely the day darkened outside, and how suddenly the whole world seemed to change.  They tried to be calm, poor things, as their mother sat up, looking sad but steady, and put away her grief to think and plan for them.

"Where's Laurie?" she asked presently, when she had collected her thoughts and decided on the first duties to be done.

"Here, ma'am!"

"Send a telegram saying I will come at once. The next train goes early in the morning. I'll take that."

Mr. Laurence came hurrying over as soon as he heard the news. There was nothing he didn't offer, from money to himself as escort. But the last was impossible. Mrs. March would not hear of the old gentleman's undertaking the long journey. Suddenly the old man ran off, knowing Mrs. March would not let him accompany her, but he had another idea.  In minutes, Mr. Brooke came through the door and almost ran directly into Meg who was bringing her mother a cup of tea.

"I'm very sorry to hear of this, Miss March,” said Mr. Brooke, in a kind, quiet tone. "I came to offer myself as escort to your mother. It will give me real satisfaction to be of service to her."

Meg almost dropped the tea cup she was so relieved and grateful to him. "How kind you are! Mother will accept, I'm sure, and it will be such a relief to know that she has someone to take care of her. Thank you very, very much!"

The short afternoon wore away. All other errands were done, but still Jo did not come home from the task Mrs. March had asked her to do. Laurie went off to find her, for no one knew what Jo might take into her head to do. But suddenly she came walking in with a very strange look on her face, opening her purse and giving a large number of bills to her mother, saying with a little choke in her voice, "That's my contribution toward making Father comfortable and bringing him home!"

"My dear, where did you get it? Twenty-five dollars! Jo, how did you get so much money?"

"I didn't beg, borrow, or steal it. I earned it, and I don't think you'll blame me, for I only sold what was my own."

As she spoke, Jo took off her hat and everyone gave out a cry!  All her hair was cut short.

"Your hair! Your beautiful hair! Oh, Jo, how could you? Your one beauty. My dear girl, there was no need of this. You don't look like my Jo any more, but I love you dearly for it!"

Jo tried to look as if she really liked it that way.  "It doesn't affect the fate of the nation, so don't cry, Beth. It will be good for my vanity. I was getting too proud of my wig. It will do my brains good to have that mop taken off. My head feels deliciously light and cool. You would think I cut off my nose instead of my hair to look at all of you crying away!  For heaven’s sake, let's have supper!"

"I don't see how you dared to do it," said Beth in a tone of awe. “I’m so proud of you, Jo."

"Don't you feel dreadful?" asked Meg, with a shiver.

"I will confess, it did seem strange to see all that hair lying on the floor.  And then, when I looked in the mirror, I suddenly realized that it was me on the floor!"

No one wanted to go to bed that night but finally they all did. Beth and Amy soon fell asleep, but Meg lay awake, thinking the most serious thoughts she had ever known in her short life. Jo lay motionless, and her sister thought that she was asleep, till she heard Jo crying.

"Jo, dear, what is it? Are you crying about father?” asked Meg.

"No."

"What then?"

"My... My hair!" burst out poor Jo.  "I'm not sorry," cried Jo. "I'd do it again tomorrow, if I could. Don't tell anyone, OK?  It’s just that the only thing of beauty I had was my hair.  Now I’m completely ugly."


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Chapters 13-15

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