Chapters 13-15

   (13) Laurie makes mischief

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After two of the unhappiest weeks the girls ever remembered, their mother finally came home with the news that their father was getting better every day. Mr. Brooke had agreed to stay on and look after him until he was entirely well, something that touched the sisters’s hearts . . . especially Meg’s. 

It was just about this time that Jo became the owner of a great secret. She said just enough to let everyone know she had a great secret, but not enough to tell what it was.  It made Meg very annoyed, but it made Laurie a perfect detective.  He was determined that before the week was over, he would get Jo’s secret out of her!

Laurie bribed, ridiculed, threatened, and then got angry.  He then pretended that he didn’t care so he might surprise the truth from her.  Finally, after incredible perseverence, he was sure the secret was about Meg and Mr. Brooke. 

Meg decided to completely ignore Jo and was busy with preparations for their father's return. But the closer the day came when father and Mr. Brooke should return home, the more Meg suddenly began to change. She jumped when spoken to, blushed when looked at, was very quiet, and didn’t eat all her dinner.

Jo only laughed and said.  “Meg is falling for the sickness (love) very fast. She's got most of the symptoms: She is jumpy and angry, she doesn't eat, she lies awake at night, and looks sad all day. I even caught her singing a love song! Whatever shall we do?" said Jo, sounding as if falling in love was worse than dying.

"Let her alone,” replied mother. “Be kind and patient. When Father comes home she will be her old self again."

The next day Jo came in with the mail from their little post office and said, "Here's a note to you, Meg. It's all sealed up. How odd! Teddy never seals mine." 

As Meg read the letter she made a little scream that made everyone look up to see what was wrong.

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

Jo then grabbed the note and read it out loud:

My Dearest Margaret,

I can no longer stay silent. You 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!” cried Jo!  “Laurie should be made to scrub our house every day for this!  Wait until he hears what I have to say to him!"

"Stop, Jo, you must look at your own faults 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," said Jo, so earnestly that they believed her. 

At that point Meg burst into tears and said, “The worst part is, it is not the first letter!  I have another and I really thought that it was from Mr. Brooke.”  With that Jo said, “I’ll kill Laurie!  I’ll do it right now!"

“Hush!” cried out Mrs. March.  "Let me handle this. Margaret, tell me the whole story," commanded Mrs. March, sitting down by Meg, yet keeping hold of Jo, so she wouldn't 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. Forgive me, Mother."

"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, “I was almost afraid you liked the idea of marriage!"

But then Meg started to cry all over again.  How can I ever look him in the face when he returns.  “Meg!” cried Jo.  “You mean you really want to marry him?!"

"That will do, Jo.” replied mother sternly. “Go get Laurie and bring him here at once."

The instant Laurie's step was heard in the hall, Meg ran out of the room and Mrs. March received the bad boy alone. Mother talked to him for half an hour, but what happened during that talk the girls never knew.

When he could finally speak Laurie said, "It was totally disgusting what I did, and you shouldn’t speak to me for a month.  But you will speak to me, won't you?" 

Meg forgave him and only then did Mrs. March's serious face relax.  Everyone thought the awful joke was over, but Meg remembered it. She began dreaming about Mr. Brooke and then, once when Jo was looking through their writing desk for stamps, she found a bit of paper with 3 words written in Meg’s handwriting: 'Mrs. John Brooke’.  Jo groaned tragically and threw it into the fire. 

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 (14) Already Christmas Again 

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It was the happiest Christmas anyone could remember. Father was almost well again and said he would be home soon. Then Mr. Lawrence had surprised them all by buying each one their very own present! After breakfast they went skating on the pond and now were at home laughing and sipping hot tea with honey, a real treat!

     Just then, Laurie opened the parlor door and popped his head in very quietly. He might just as well have cried out with an Indian war whoop, his face was so full of joy.  Then, in a very strange, breathless voice he said, “Here is one more Christmas present for the March family."

     Before the words were well out of his mouth, there appeared a tall man, leaning on the arm of another tall man. When they realized who it was, they all leaped from their chairs to embrace their dear father.  In their happiness, Jo disgraced herself by nearly fainting and Mr. Brooke kissed Meg entirely by mistake. And Amy, the dignified, fell over a chair, and never stopping to get up, hugged and cried over her father's boots. 

Mr. March told how he had wanted to surprise them, and how, when the fine weather came, he had been allowed by his doctor to leave for home. There never was such a Christmas dinner as they had that day. The fat turkey was the fattest anyone had ever seen and Hannah, though she denied it, had clearly put extra sugar in the plum pudding. 

Mr. Laurence and Laurie ate with them, also Mr. Brooke. Jo looked darkly at him, angry that he had dared to kiss his sister! And so, while everyone else talked of pudding and presents, Jo sat silently plotting what she could do to keep Mr. Brooke from doing the “unspeakable”!

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 (15) The end has finally come 

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 Like bees flying after their queen, everyone flew around Mr. March the next day, who was suddenly threatened to be killed by kindness. But the real one everyone was worried about was not Mr. March. 

     Jo, as always, was the first one to be honest. One day she was seen shaking her fist at Mr. Brooke's umbrella.  As soon as he left, Jo fell into an awful mood watching Meg. She was absent-minded, shy, and silent, and jumped whenever the door bell rang.  Finally, Jo said, “Why do you think your John won’t find someone better than you?!” 

“Don't say my John, it isn't proper or true, Jo,” replied Meg.  But her voice lingered over the words as if they sounded pleasant to her. “Please don't be so mean to mean, Jo.  I've told you I don't care much about him. Why can’t we just act the same way we’ve always acted toward Mr. Brooke and Laurie?"

"We can't, for Mr. Brooke has spoiled you for me. I see it, and so does Mother. You are not like your old self a bit, and seem ever so far away from me. I will bear it like a man, but I do wish it was all settled. I hate to wait, so if you mean to do it, do it quickly and get it over with," said Jo with a harsh voice.

"I can't say anything because Father said I was too young," began Meg, with a funny little smile, which suggested that she really did think that Mr. Brooke would one day marry her.

“So if you were old enough to marry, would you mind telling me what you'd say?" asked Jo more respectfully.

"Not at all. You are sixteen now. My experience will be useful to some day when you face the same question."

“I will NEVER face such a question. I should feel like a fool listening to someone ask me to marry," said Jo, looking alarmed at the thought.

“Just you wait. If you liked anyone very much, and he liked you, you would wait for the question like any normal girl. But to answer your question, I would say, calmly and decidedly, 'Thank you, Mr. Brooke, you are very kind, but I agree with Father that I am too young to marry at present.  Please say no more, but let us be friends as we were.'"

"Hum! I don't believe you'll ever say that! You'll give in and say, 'Oh, yes, yes! I will be your faithful wife forever!’  But you might as well be a slave for the rest of your life!"

"No, I won't. I will tell him I’m too young and will walk out of the room with dignity!"

Meg rose as she spoke, to show Jo how she would leave the room with dignity when a step in the hall made her fly into her seat and begin to sew as fast as if her life depended on it! Jo started laugh but then put on a face as angry as a Tom cat when “someone” suddenly knocked on the door.

"Good afternoon. I came to get my umbrella, that is, to see how your father finds himself today," said Mr. Brooke, getting confused and not knowing what to say at the sight of Meg.

Jo left the room feeling the “end” was near.  As soon as she was gone, Meg said, "Mother will like to see you. Pray sit down, I'll call her."

"Don't go. Are you afraid of me, Margaret?" asked Mr. Brooke. Meg blushed and with a voice you could hardly hear said, "How can I be afraid of you when you have been so kind to Father? I only wish I could thank you for it."

"Shall I tell you how you can thank me?" asked Mr. Brooke, holding the small hand fast in both his own.  Meg’s heart started to flutter until she thought she would die.

"Oh no, please don’t tell me!  I mean . . ." she said, trying to withdraw her hand.

"Meg. I love you so much, dear," added Mr. Brooke tenderly.  “Please just tell me if you like me even a little."

Meg forgot every word of her calm, dignified speech and let Mr. Brooke hold her hand until she saw Jo looking at them!  Suddenly she said, “I’m too young to marry and I don’t want to think about it now.  Please go away!"

Mr. Brooke looked like a man without hope in the world. “But maybe you'll change your mind in the future? I'll wait and say nothing till you have had more time to think."

Meg, wanting to show Jo she was wrong said, “Please go now!"

He turned pale. He just stood looking at her so sadly, so tenderly, that she found her heart melting in spite of herself. What would have happened next I cannot say, if Aunt March had not come hobbling in at this interesting minute.

She surprise the two of them so much that Meg jumped as if she had seen a ghost, and Mr. Brooke ran into the study.

"Bless me, what's all this?" cried the old lady.

"It's Father's friend. I'm so surprised to see you!" stammered Meg.

"That's evident," returned Aunt March, sitting down. "But what is Father's friend saying to make you look like a peony? There's mischief going on, and I insist upon knowing what it is,” she said boldly.

"We were only talking. Mr. Brooke came for his umbrella," began Meg, wishing that Mr. Brooke and the umbrella were safely out of the house.

"Brooke? That boy's tutor? Ah! I understand now. I know all about it thanks to Jo."

“Hush, Aunt March! He'll hear. I'll call Mother," said Meg, much troubled.

"Not yet. I've something to say to you, and I must free my mind at once. Tell me, do you mean to marry this Cook? If you do, not one penny of my money ever goes to you. Remember that, and be a sensible girl," said the old lady.

Now Aunt March possessed in perfection the art of rousing the spirit of opposition in the gentlest people, and enjoyed doing it. If Aunt March had begged Meg to accept John Brooke, she would probably have declared she couldn't think of it, but when she was ordered not to like him, she immediately made up her mind that she would marry him. 

"I will marry whom I please, Aunt March, and you can leave your money to anyone you like!" 

"Highty-tighty! Is that the way you take my advice, Miss? You'll be sorry for it by-and-by, when you've tried love in a cottage and found it a failure."

"It can't be a worse one than some people find in big houses,” replied Meg.

Aunt March put on her glasses and took a look at the girl, for she did not know her in this new mood. "Now, Meg, my dear, be reasonable and take my advice. I mean it kindly, and don't want you to spoil your whole life by making a mistake at the beginning. You ought to marry well and help your family. It's your duty to make a rich match and it ought to be impressed upon you."

"Father and Mother don't think so. They like John though he is poor."

"Your parents, my dear, have no more worldly wisdom than a pair of babies."

"I'm glad of it," cried Meg stoutly.

Aunt March took no notice, but went on with her lecture. "This Rook is poor and hasn't got any rich relations, has he?"

"No, but he has many warm friends."

"You can't live on friends, try it and see how cool they'll grow. He hasn't any business, has he?"

"Not yet. Mr. Laurence is going to help him."

"That won't last long. James Laurence is a crotchety old fellow and not to be depended on. So you intend to marry a man without money, position, or business, and go on working harder than you do now, when you might be comfortable all your days by minding me and doing better? I thought you had more sense, Meg."

"I couldn't do better if I waited half my life! John is good and wise, he's got heaps of talent, he's willing to work and energetic and brave. Everyone likes and respects him, and I'm proud to think he cares for me, " said Meg.

"He knows you have got rich relations, child. That's the secret of his liking, I suspect."

"Aunt March, how dare you say such a thing? I won't listen to you a minute if you talk so," cried Meg. "My John wouldn't marry for money, any more than I would. We are willing to work and we mean to wait. I'm not afraid of being poor, for I've been happy so far, and I know I shall be with him because he loves me, and I..."

Meg stopped there, remembering she had told 'her John' to go away, and that he might be overhearing her words.

Aunt March was very angry, for she had set her heart on having her pretty niece make a fine match, and something in the girl's happy young face made the lonely old woman feel both sad and sour.

"Well, I wash my hands of the whole affair! You are a willful child. I'm disappointed in you. Don't expect anything from me when you are married. Your Mr. Brooke's friends must take care of you. I'm done with you forever."

Slamming the door in Meg's face, Aunt March drove off in a huff. Meg stood for a moment, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Before she could make up her mind, Mr. Brooke flew in the room and said all in one breath, "I couldn't help hearing, Meg. Thank you for defending me, and Aunt March for proving that you do care for me a little bit. Does that mean I don’t have to go away, dear?"

Meg disgraced herself forever in Jo's eyes by meekly whispering, "Yes, John," and putting her head on Mr. Brooke's chest.


Fifteen minutes after Aunt March's departure, Jo came softly downstairs, paused a moment at the parlor door, and hearing no sound within, smiled and said to herself, “Meg told him to go away as planned!  What a relief!  That business is finally settled. I'll go and hear Meg tell me how she did it, and we can have a good laugh over it."

But poor Jo never got her laugh. When she opened the door she was shocked to see the “enemy” (Mr. Brooke) sitting happily on the sofa, with her weak sister sitting on his knee! Jo gave a gasp as if cold water had suddenly fallen on her. At the odd sound the lovers turned and saw her. Meg jumped up, looking both proud and shy, but 'that man', as Jo called him, laughed and said—as he kissed her—"Sister Jo, congratulate us!"

It was all more than Jo could take and she ran away without a word. Rushing upstairs, she surprised her parents by running into the room and saying tragically, "Oh, somebody go downstairs quick! John Brooke is acting awfully, and Meg likes it!"

Mr. and Mrs. March left the room with speed. Then Jo threw herself on her bed, and started to cry as she told the awful news to Beth and Amy. The little girls, however, thought it was wonderful and so Jo got little comfort from them. Finally, she ran up into the garret and told her troubles to the rats.

Nobody ever knew what went on in the parlor that afternoon, but in the end, everything came out in favor of Mr. Brooke.

Jo was the only one in family who was not happy. But, you see, Jo loved a few persons liked she loved Meg and she dreaded to have her affection lost.

Suddenly Laurie came in with a big bouquet of flowers for Meg and saying happily, “Am I invited to the wedding?” Then looking at Jo he laughed and said, "I'll come if I'm at the ends of the earth, for the sight of Jo's face alone on that occasion would be worth a long journey. You don't look festive, Miss Jo, what's the matter?" asked Laurie.

"You can't know how hard it is for me to give up Meg," she said with a quiver in her voice. "It can never be the same again. I've lost my dearest friend," sighed Jo.

So ended the childhood of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.  After many long years everything came out right, except for one sad event.  Meg and Mr. Brooke happily married and soon had twins. Jo went off to New York to become a famous writer determined never to marry. To everyone’s surprise, Laurie married Amy who was finally wealthy with lots of pretty dresses which she wore to host lots of tea parties.  Sadly, dear Beth left the family quietly one night after a long illness to dwell among the angels.

But the story did not stop on that sad note.  In New York, Jo met a man from Germany, a professor at a boy’s school, who managed to prove to her that marriage was not the same as death.  They married and opened a school together when Aunt March died and left her entire estate to Jo.

THE END


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