“咦，我在那边丢了一双，怎么现在只有一只？“梅格望望灰色的棉手套。“你是不是把另一只丢在园子里头了？““没有，我保证没有，因为邮箱里就只有 一只。“我讨厌单只手套！不过不要紧，另一只会找到的，我的信只是我要的一首德语歌的译文。我想是布鲁克写的，因为不是劳里的字迹。“马奇太太瞅一眼梅 格，只见她穿着一袭方格花布晨衣，额前的小鬈发随风轻轻飘动，显得美丽动人，娇柔可爱。她坐在堆满整整齐齐的白布匹的小工作台边哼着歌儿飞针走线，脑子里 只顾做着五彩斑斓、天真无邪的少女美梦、一点也没有觉察到妈妈的心事。马奇太太笑了，感到十分满意。
一封是妈妈写的，她读着便飞红了双颊，眼睛也潮湿了，因为信上说--亲爱的：我写几句话告诉你，看到你为控制自己的脾气作出了巨大的努力，我感到多 么高兴。你对自己的痛苦、失败、或成功只字不提，可能以为除了那位每天给你帮助的"朋友“外（我敢相信是你那本封面卷了角的指导书），没有人注意到这一 切。不过，我也一一看在眼里，而且完全相信你的诚意和决心，因为你的决心已经开始结果了。继续努力吧，亲爱的，耐着性子，鼓足勇气，记住有一个人比任何人 都更关心你，更爱护你，他就是你亲爱的妈妈“这些话对我很有好处，这封信抵得上万千金钱和无数溢美之辞。噢，妈咪，我确实是在努力！在您的帮助下，我一定 不屈不挠地坚持下去。“乔把头埋在双臂上，为这小小的罗曼史洒下几滴热泪。她原以为没有人看到和欣赏她的努力，现在却意外地受到了母亲的赞扬，她一向最敬 重母亲的话，因此这封信显得更加珍贵、更加鼓舞人心。她把纸条当作护身符别在上衣里面，以便时刻提醒自己，更增加了征服困难的信心。她接着打开另一封信， 准备接受这个不知是好是坏的消息，展现在眼前的是劳里龙飞凤舞的大字--亲爱的乔，嗬！
几个英国女孩和男孩明天来看望我，我想好好玩玩。如果天气好，我准备在长草坪上搭帐篷，全班人马划船过去吃午饭，玩槌球游戏--点篝火，野餐，自由 戏耍，享受天然野趣。布鲁克也一起去，看管我们这班男孩子，凯特·沃恩则看管女孩子。恳请你们各位光临，无论如何不能漏了贝思，没有人会烦扰她的。不用担 心野餐食物--一切由我来负责--千万出席这才是好朋友呢！
“只知道他们是四姐弟。凯特年纪比你大，弗雷德和弗兰克（双胞胎）年纪跟我差不多，还有个小姑娘（格莱丝）约莫十岁。劳里是在国外认识他们的，他喜 欢那两个男孩子；我想，他不怎么赞赏凯特，因为他谈起她便一本正经地抿起嘴巴。““我真高兴我的法式印花布服装还干干净净，这种场合穿正合适，又好看！ “梅格喜滋滋地说，“你有什么出得场面的吗，乔？““红、灰两色的划艇衣就够好了。我要划船，到处跑动，只想穿随便一点。你也来吧，贝蒂？““那你得别让 那些男孩子跟我说话。““一个也不让！““我想让劳里高兴，我也不怕布鲁克先生，他是个大好人；但是我不想玩，不想唱，也不想说话。我会埋头干活，不打扰 别人。你来照看我，乔，那我就去。““这才是我的好妹妹，你在努力克服自己的害羞心理呢，我真高兴。改正缺点并不容易，这我知道，而一句鼓励的话儿就能使 人精神一振。谢谢您，妈妈，“乔说着感激地吻了一下母亲瘦削的脸庞，这一吻对于马奇太太来说比任何东西都要宝贵。
第二天一早，当太阳把头探进姑娘们的闺房向她们预告好天气时，他看到了一幅妙趣横生的景象：姐妹们个个下足功夫，为野营盛会做好充分准备。梅格的前 额排列着一排小卷发纸；乔在晒焦了的脸上厚厚地涂了一层冷霜；贝思因为即将和乔安娜分离，把她带到床上共寝以弥补损失；艾美更是令人叫绝，她用衣夹夹住鼻 子，试图把令人烦恼的扁鼻梁托高。这种夹子正是艺术家们用来在画板上夹画纸的那种，因此用在这里尤其合适。这幅滑稽图显然把太阳公公逗乐了，他笑得喷出万 道金光，把乔照醒。看到艾美这付尊容，她禁不住大笑出声，遂把众姐妹闹醒了。
“一个人带着帐篷出来了！我看到巴克太太把午饭放到一个盖箱和大篓里。现在劳伦斯先生仰头望望天空和风标；但愿他也一起去。那是劳里，打扮得像个水 手--帅小伙子！噢，啊呀！一整车的人--一个高个女士，一个小姑娘，还有两个可怕的男孩子。一个跛了腿：可怜的人！他拄着支拐杖。劳里没跟我们说过。快 点，姑娘们！时间不早了。呀，那是内德·莫法特，没错。瞧，梅格，这不是那天我们上街时向你行礼的那个人吗？““果然不错。他怎么也来了？我还以为他在山 里头呢。那是莎莉；太好了，她回来得正是时候。你看我这样行吗，乔？“梅格焦急地问道。
劳里跑上前来迎接她们，十分热情地把她们介绍给各位朋友。草坪成了会客厅，大家在那里逗留了几分钟，气氛十分活跃。梅格看到凯特小姐虽然年方二十， 穿着打扮却相当简扑，心里松了一口气，因为这种风格美国姑娘不费吹灰之力就能学会。她听内德先生一再声明自己特为见她一面而来，心里更加受用。乔终于明白 劳里为什么一提到凯特就"一本正经地抿起嘴巴"，因为这位女士神态孤高冷傲，不像其他姑娘那样无拘无束、轻松随和。贝思观察了一下新来的男孩子，认为跛足 这位并不"可怕"，反倒温顺柔弱，她因此想善待他。
帐篷、午饭、槌球游戏用具等先行送走后，大家随即登上小艇。两叶轻舟并驾齐驱，岸上只剩下挥着帽子的劳伦斯先生一人。劳里和乔共划一艘艇，布鲁克先 生和内德先生划另一艘，而淘气反叛的双胞胎兄弟弗雷德·沃恩则使劲划着一只单人赛艇，像只受了惊的水蝽一样在两叶小舟之间乱冲乱撞。乔那顶风趣的帽子用途 十分广泛，值得击掌鸣谢：它一开始便打破隔膜，逗得众人笑一来，她划船时帽子上下摆动，扇出阵阵清风，如果下起雨来它还可以给全班人马当作一把大伞使用， 她说。凯特对乔的一举一动都觉得十分新奇，她丢了桨时大叫一声"我的妈哟！“；而劳里就坐时不小心在她脚上绊了一下，他说：“我的好伙伴，弄痛了你没 有？“这些更叫她纳罕不已。戴上眼镜把这位奇怪的姑娘审视几遍后，凯特小姐认定乔"古怪，但挺聪明"，于是远远对着她微笑起来。
另一只艇上的梅格舒舒服服地坐在两个荡桨手的对面，两个小伙子喜之不尽，各自使出不一般的"技巧和机敏"，把艇划得十分稳当。布鲁克先生是个严肃、 沉默寡言的年青人，声音悦耳动听，一对棕色的眼睛明亮有神。梅格喜欢他性格沉静，把他看作是一部活百科全书，里头装满了各种有用的知识。他跟她不大说话， 但眼光却常常落在她身上，梅格肯定他对自己并不反感。内德是大学新生，当然摆足派头。他并不特别聪明，但性情随和，不失为野营活动的好伙伴。莎莉·加德纳 一面打足精神护着自己的白裙子，以免被水平脏，一面和到处乱冲乱撞的弗雷德交谈。弗雷德不断做出各式各样的恶作剧，把贝思吓得心惊胆战。
布鲁克选了梅格、凯特和弗雷德；劳里则选了莎莉、乔和内德。英国孩子打得不错，但美国孩子打得更好，而且冲劲十足。乔和弗雷德发生了几次小冲突，一 次还几乎吵了起来。乔过最后一道三柱门时失了一球，很是光火。弗雷德紧跟其后，这回先轮到他发球，接着才轮到乔。他把球一击，球打在三柱门上，然后停了下 来，离球门仅有一英寸之距。大家离得较远，于是跑上来看个究竟。他狡猾地用脚指头把球轻轻一碰，球便刚好滑进了球门。
乔张口要骂，却又忍住了，只觉得热血直冲脑门，她怔了一会，用尽全力把一个三柱门捶倒，而弗雷德则击中目标，狂喜地宣布自己胜出。乔走开去拾球，好 一会功夫才在矮树丛里把球找到。但她走回来，神态冷静，一言不发，耐心地等着发球。她打了好几球才追回到原来的位置；当她追上时，对方差不多就要赢了，因 为凯特的球是倒数第二个，正停在目标旁边。
劳里把自己的帽子向空中一扔，却突然想起败方是自己的客人，不可太露轻狂，于是赶紧收住喊出嘴边的喝彩声，悄悄跟自己的朋友说：“做得对，乔！他确 实是作弊，我也看到了；但我们不能跟他直说，不过他下回不敢再犯了，相信我吧。“梅格把她拉过一边，假装帮她夹起一绺松脱下来的辫子，赞赏地说：“这事叫 人怒不可遏，但你竟忍住了，没有发脾气，我真高兴，乔。““别夸我，梅格，我这会还想赏他一个耳光呢。我刚才在蓖麻树丛里呆了许久，压下一腔怒火才没有出 声，要不，早就火冒三丈了。我的火这会还热着呢，所以他最好离我远点，“乔答道，紧咬双唇，从那顶大帽子下面悻悻地瞪了弗雷德一眼。
“该吃午饭了，“布鲁克先生看看手表说，“军需官，你去生火、打水，我跟马奇小姐、莎莉小姐一起布置饭桌，怎么样？哪位擅长煮咖啡？““乔会。“梅 格高兴地推荐妹妹。乔知道自己新近学会的烹饪技术不会给自己丢脸，便走过去摆弄咖啡壶，两个小姑娘捡来干树枝，男孩子生气火，从附近一个水泉打来清水。凯 特小姐写生，贝思编结灯心草小垫子来做盘子，弗兰克在一旁跟她拉话儿。
总指挥和他的助手们很快便在桌布上摆满了各式诱人的食物和饮料，并用绿叶点缀得十分雅致。乔宣布咖啡已经煮好，众人各就各位，坐下饱吃一顿。年青人 消化能力强，加上做了运动，所以胃口特别好。这顿午餐吃得十分愉快，一切都似乎新鲜有趣，大家谈笑风生，惊动了在近处吃草的一匹老马。饭桌凹凸不平，常常 弄得杯碟东倒西歪，十分逗趣，橡树子掉进牛奶里头，小黑蚂蚁不请自来，一起分享美点，爱管闲事的毛虫从树上晃荡下来，想看看发生了什么事。三个白发小童隔 着篱笆探头探脑，一只讨厌的狗在河对面向他们汪汪狂吠。
“玩游戏，直到天凉下来，我带来了'作者'游戏卡。凯特小姐也一定有些好玩的新花样。去问问她吧；她是客人，你该多陪陪她。““你就不是客人了？我 原以为她和布鲁克合得来，但他却老跟梅格说话，凯特只是透过她那副怪眼镜一个劲地瞪着他们。我去了，你也不用跟我谈什么礼节规矩，因为你自己就做不来， 乔。“凯特确实知道几种新游戏，因姑娘们不愿再吃，男孩们又不能再吃，大家便移到“客厅"玩"废话连篇"的游戏。
“一人起个头，给大家讲故事，内容不拘、长短不限，但要注意一到紧要关头便得停下，第二个人立即接上，如法炮制。如果玩得好，这个游戏十分有趣，里 头故事杂乱无章，或悲或喜，令人捧腹。请起个头，布鲁克先生，“凯特用一种命令式的语气说。梅格对这位私人教师十分敬重，把他跟其他几位男士一样看待，见 状不禁大为惊讶。
“从前，一个武士穷得只剩下一把剑和一张盾，于是出去闯世界。他历尽艰辛，周游了差不多二十八年，最后来到一个好心的老国王的宫殿。老国王有一匹心 爱的小马，漂亮无比，但尚未驯服，他颁令如有人把这骑马驯好，将获得一笔丰厚的酬金。武士同意试一试，这匹雄壮骁勇的马儿很快就和新主人建立了感情，虽然 它性子暴烈，狂野不羁，但还是慢慢被驯服了。每天训练时武士都骑着国王的宝马穿过闹市，边走边四面寻找一张在他梦中出现过无数次的漂亮脸孔，但一直没有找 到。一天，当他策马走过一条寂静无人的街道时，他在一座废弃的城堡的窗口里看到了那张动人的脸孔。他惊喜万分，便询问是谁住在这座旧城堡里头，原来是几个 被掳来的公主，她们被施了魔咒，关在里头，夜以继日地纺纱织布，以蓄钱赎取自由。武士非常希望能把她们解救出来，但他一贫如洗，只能每天走到那里，盼望着 那张美丽的脸孔能再次出现，期望公主能够出来走到阳光下面。最后他决定闯进城堡，看看怎样才能帮助她们。他走过去敲门，大门马上拉开，他看到了--““一 位绝色佳人，她狂喜地大叫一声，高呼：'盼到啦！盼到啦！'“凯特接上故事，她读过法国小说，喜欢那种风格。
'啊，起来！'她伸出纤纤玉手说道。'不！除非你告诉我怎样才能把你救出樊牢，“武士跪在那里发誓。'呵，残酷的命运把我囚在这里，暴君不死，我就 没有出头之日。''恶棍在哪里？''在紫红色的大厅里。去吧，勇敢的爱人，快把我救出绝境。''遵命，我一定与他决一死战！'说完这几句豪言壮语后，他冲 出去，砰的一声打开紫红色大厅的大门，正要走进去，却遭到--““一下痛击，一个披黑衣的老家伙向他下了手，“内德说，“某某爵士马上回过神来，把暴君丢 出窗外，转身去与佳人相会，顶着眉头上的大包，凯旋而归；但却发现门被锁上了，只好撕破窗帘做成一张绳梯，下到半途绳梯突然断裂，他一头栽进六十英尺下面 的护城河。他熟谙水性，涉水绕城堡而行，最后来到一扇有两壮汉守着的小门，把两个脑袋互相对碰，直碰得格格作响，接着，大力士毫不费劲便破门而入，走上一 段石阶，上面积满了一英尺厚的灰尘，癞蛤蟆跟你的拳头一样大，蜘蛛准把你吓得歇斯底里尖叫，马奇小姐。在石阶上头，他蓦地看到了一东西，令他大惊失色，毛 骨悚然，他看到--““一个高高的身影，穿着一身白衣服，脸上蒙了０一条脸纱，瘦骨嶙峋的手提着一盏灯，“梅格续上去，“它招招手，无声无息地沿着一条像 坟墓一样黑暗冰凉的走廊滑行。披着盔甲的塑像阴森森地站立两边，周围一片死寂，灯火喷出蓝光，鬼影不时向他转过脸来，两只恐怖的眼睛透过白色脸纱发出闪闪 幽光。他们走到一扇挂了帘子的门前，门后面突然响起悦耳的音乐；他跳上前要走进去，幽灵把他拽了回来，威胁地在他面前扬着一个--““鼻烟盒，“乔阴声阴 气地说，众人听得毛发倒竖，“'有劳了，'武士礼貌地说，一面拈了一撮儿，随即重重地打了七个大喷嚏，震得脑袋都掉了下来。'哈！哈！'鬼魂发出笑声。
恶鬼透过钥匙孔看到公主们仍在纺线赎取新生，便捡起它的牺牲品，把他放进一个大锡箱子里，箱里头还密密麻麻地塞了十一个无头武士，他们全站起身来， 开始--““跳号笛舞，“弗雷德趁乔停下歇口气时插进来，“他们跳舞时，废旧城堡变成一艘风帆的战船。'向风打三角帆，收紧中桅帆扬帆索，背风转舵，开 炮！'船长吼叫道。此时一艘前桅飘着一面黑旗的葡萄牙海盗船正驶入视线。“冲啊，伙伴们！“船长说，于是一场大战开始了。当然是英方打赢罗，他们向来都是 赢家。“不对！“乔在一边叫道。
但那葡萄牙人像条好汉一样咬紧牙关，于是让他走跳板。快乐的水手们欢呼若狂。但那狡猾的家伙潜在水中，游到战船下面，把船底凿穿，扬满风帆的船儿沉 了下去，'往海底，海，海，'那儿--““噢，天啊！我该说什么？“莎莉叫道。此时弗雷德收住了他的连篇废话，这些乱七八糟的水手用语和生活描写全取材于 他最喜欢的一本书。“唔，他们沉落海底，一条美丽的美人鱼迎接他们，看到装着无头武士的箱子，美人鱼十分伤心，便好心地把他们腌在盐水里，希望能发现他们 的秘密，因为她是个女人，好奇心很强。后来，有个人潜水下来，美人鱼便说：'如果你可以把箱子拿上去，我便把这箱珠宝送给你。'她很想这些可怜的武士重获 新生，但自己却无力举起这个沉重的箱子。潜水者便把箱子举上来，打开一看，里头并无珠宝，大为失望，便把箱子弃在一片人迹罕至的荒野里，被一个--““小 牧羊女发现了。小姑娘在这片地里养了一百只肥鹅，“艾美在莎莉才思枯竭时接着说，“她很替武士们难过，便请教一位老妇人怎样才能帮助他们。'你的鹅会告诉 你的，它们无所不知，'老妇人说。她接着又问旧脑袋掉了应该用什么再装上去做新脑袋，只见那一百只鹅张开嘴巴齐齐尖叫—-““'卷心菜！'"劳里立即接上 去，“'就是它了，'姑娘说道，跑到自己的园子里摘了十二个大卷心菜。她把卷心菜放上去，武士们马上复活了，谢过小牧羊女后，欣喜上路，并不知道自己换了 脑袋，因为世界上跟他们一样的脑袋太多了，谁也没想到自己的有什么不同。我感兴趣的那位武士走回去找佳人，得悉公主们已纺纱赎回自由，除了一个外已全部出 嫁了。武士听罢心潮起伏难平，跨上一直与他患难与共的小马，冲到城堡，看看留下来的是谁。他隔着树篱偷窥，看到他心爱的公主正在花园里采花。'能给我一朵 玫瑰吗？'他问道。'你得自己过来拿。我不能走近你，这样有失体统，'佳人柔声说道。他试图爬过树篱，但它似乎越长越高；然后他想冲破树篱，但它却越长越 浓密。他一筹莫展，于是耐心地把细树枝一枝一枝折断，开了一个小洞，从洞里望进去，哀求道：'让我进来吧！让我进来吧！'但美丽的公主似乎并不明白，依然 平静地摘她的玫瑰，任由他孤身奋战。他有没有冲进去呢？弗兰克会告诉大家。“我不会，我没有玩，我从来都不玩，“弗兰克说道。他不知道怎样才能把这对荒唐 的情人从感情的困境中解救出来。贝思早躲到乔的身后，格莱丝则睡着了。
“可能你妈妈希望你别有建树吧，我想，我妈妈也一样，但我悄悄学了几课，把我的才华证明给她看，她便同意我继续学了。你也一样可以跟自己的家庭教师 悄悄学啊？““我没有家庭教师。““我倒忘了美国姑娘大多都上学堂，跟我们不一样。爸爸说，这些学校都很气派。我猜你上的是私立学校吧？““我根本不上 学。我自己便是个家庭教师。““噢，是吗！“凯特小姐说，但她倒不如直说：“天啊，真丢人！“因为她的语气分明有这个意思。她脸上的神情使梅格涨红了脸， 直懊悔自己刚才太坦诚。
布鲁克先生抬起头，机智地说道：“美国姑娘跟她们的祖先一样热爱独立，她们自食其力，并因此而受到敬重。““噢，不错，她们这样做当然很好、很正 当。我们也有不少体面高尚的年轻女士这样做，受雇于贵族阶层。因为，作为绅士的女儿，她们都很有教养和建树，你知道，“凯特小姐用一种居高临下的腔调说 道，这话使梅格的自尊心受到了伤害，使她的工作变得不但更加讨厌，而且更加丢人了。
梅格顺着她的新教师用来指点的长草叶羞涩地慢慢读下去。她的声调悦耳轻柔，那些生涩难读的字句不知不觉全变得如诗如歌。绿草叶一路指下去，把梅格带 到悲泣哀怨的境界，她旋即忘掉了自己的听众，旁若无人地往下读，读到不幸的女王说的话时，声调带了一点哽咽。假使她当时看到了那对棕色眼睛，她一定会突然 停下；但她没有抬头，这堂课于是得以圆满结束。
我建议你学一学，因为德语对于教师来说是一种很有价值的建树。我得去照看格莱丝，她在乱蹦乱跳呢。“凯蒂小姐说着慢慢走开了。又自言自语地耸耸肩。 “我不可是来陪一个女家庭教师的，虽然她确实年轻貌美。这些美国佬真是怪人；劳里跟她们一起兴许会学坏了哩。““我忘了英国人瞧不起女家庭教师，不像我们 那样对待她们，“梅格望着凯特小姐远去的身影懊恼地说道。
“嘿，你不知道，乔爱马爱得发疯，我也一样，但我们没有马，只有一个旧横鞍。我们园子外头有一棵苹果树，长了一个漂亮的低树丫，乔便把马鞍放上去， 在翘起处系上缰绳，我们什么时候来了兴致，便跳上'爱伦树'。““多有趣！“格莱丝笑了。“我家里有一匹小马，我几乎每天都和弗兰德和凯特一起去公园骑 马；这是一种享受，因为我的朋友们也去，整个罗瓦都是绅士淑女们的身影。““哎呀，多带劲！我希望能有一天到国外走走，但我宁愿去罗马，不去罗瓦，“艾美 说。她根本不知道罗瓦是什么，也不愿向人请教。
坐在两个小姑娘后面的弗雷克听到了她们说话。看到生龙活虎般的小伙子们在做各种各样有趣的体操动作，他很不耐烦地一把推开自己的拐杖。贝思正在收拾 散乱一地的"作者"卡片，闻声抬起头来，羞怯而友好地问：“我想你累了吧；我能为你效劳吗？““跟我说说话吧，求求你；一个人枯坐闷死了，“弗兰克回答。 显然他在家里被悉心照料惯了。
下午大家看了一场狐狸野鹅的即兴表演，又举行了一场槌球友谊比赛，不觉红日西沉，于是拆除帐篷，收拾盖篮，卸下三柱门，装上船只，全班人马乘着船儿 沿河漂流，一面放声高歌。内德动了情，用柔和的颤音唱起一首小夜曲，只听他唱那忧郁的迭句--孤独，孤独，啊！哦，孤独，又唱歌词--我们正当青春妙龄， 各自怀有一颗善感的心，呵，为什么要拉开如此冷漠的距离？
“你怎能对我这样无情？“他咕哝道，声音湮没在众人活泼的歌声里，“你一整天都和那个正儿八经的英国女人混在一起，这会儿又让我过不去。““我并非 有意，只是你怪模怪样的，我实在忍不住，“梅格答道，把他第一部分的责备略过不提。说真的她整天都在躲他，因为她对莫法特家的晚会以及后来的闲话记忆犹 新。
Beth was postmistress, for, being most at home, she couldattend to it regularly, and dearly liked the daily task ofunlocking the little door and distributing the mail. One Julyday she came in with her hands full, and went about the houseleaving letters and parcels like the penny post.
"Here's your posy, Mother! Laurie never forgets that," shesaid, putting the fresh nosegay in the vase that stood in `Marmee'scorner', and was kept supplied by the affectionate boy.
"Miss Meg March, one letter and a glove," continued Beth,delivering the articles to her sister, who sat near her mother,stitching wristbands.
"Why, I left a pair over there, and here is only one," saidMeg, looking at the gray cotton glove. "Didn't you drop theother in the garden?"
"No, I'm sure I didn't, for there was only one in the office."
"I hate to have odd gloves! Never mind, the other may befound. My letter is only a translation of the German song Iwanted. I think Mr. Brooke did it, for this isn't Laurie'swriting."
Mrs. March glanced at Meg, who was looking very pretty inher gingham morning gown, with the little curls blowing about herforehead, and very womanly, as she sat sewing at her little worktable,full of tidy white rolls, so unconscious of the thought in hermother's mind as she sewed and sang, while her fingers flewand her thoughts were busied with girlish fancies as innocentand fresh as the pansies in her belt, that Mrs. March smiled andwas satisfied.
"Two letters for Doctor Jo, a book, and a funny old hat,which covered the whole post office and stuck outside," saidBeth, laughing as she went into the study where Jo sat writing.
"What a sly fellow Laurie is! I said I wished bigger hatswere the fashion, because I burn my face every hot day. He said,`Why mind the fashion? Wear a big hat, and be comfortable!' Isaid I would if I had one, and he has sent me this to try me. I'llwear it for fun, and show him I don't care for the fashion." Andhanging the antique broadbrim on a bust of Plato, Jo read herletters.
One from her mother made her cheeks glow and her eyes fill,for it said to her...
I write a little word to tell you with how much satisfactionI watch your efforts to control your temper. You say nothingabout your trials, failures, or successes, and think, perhaps,that no one sees them but the Friend whose help you daily ask,if I may trust the well-worn cover of your guidebook. I, too,have seen them all, and heartily believe in the sincerity ofyour resolution, since it begins to bear fruit. Go on, dear,patiently and bravely, and always believe that no one sympathizesmore tenderly with you than your loving...
"That does me good! That's worth millions of money andpecks of praise. Oh, Marmee, I do try! I will keep on trying,and not get tired, since I have you to help me."
Laying her head on her arms, Jo wet her little romance witha few happy tears. for she had thought that no one saw andappreciated her efforts to be good, and this assurance was doublyprecious, doubly encouraging, because unexpected and from theperson whose commendation she most valued. Feeling stronger thanever to meet and subdue her Apollyon, she pinned the note inside herfrock, as a shield and a reminder, lest she be taken unaware, andproceeded to open her other letter, quite ready for either good orbad news. In a big, dashing hand, Laurie wrote...
Some english girls and boys are coming to see me tomorrowand I want to have a jolly time. If it's fine, I'm going to pitchmy tent in Longmeadow, and row up the whole crew to lunch andcroquet--have a fire, make messes, gypsy fashion, and all sortsof larks. They are nice people, and like such things. Brooke willgo to keep us boys steady, and Kate Vaughn will play propriety forthe girls. I want you all to come, can't let Beth off at any price,and nobody shall worry her. Don't bother about rations, I'll seeto that and everything else, only do come, there's a good fellow!
In a tearing hurry,
Yours ever, Laurie.
"Here's richness!" cried Jo, flying in to tell the news to Meg.
"Of course we can go, Mother? It will be such a help toLaurie, for I can row, and Meg see to the lunch, and the childrenbe useful in some way."
"I hope the Vaughns are not fine grown-up people. Do youknow anything about them, Jo?" asked Meg.
"Only that there are four of them. Kate is older than you,Fred and Frank (twins) about my age, and a little girl (Grace), whois nine or ten. Laurie knew them abroad, and liked the boys. Ifancied, from the way he primmed up his mouth in speaking of her,that he didn't admire Kate much."
"I'm so glad my French print is clean, it's just the thingand so becoming!" observed Meg complacently. "Have you anythingdecent, Jo?"
"Scarlet and gray boating suit, good enough for me. I shallrow and tramp about, so I don't want any starch to think of. You'llcome, Betty?"
"If you won't let any boys talk to me."
"Not a boy!"
"I like to please Laurie, and I'm not afraid of Mr. Brooke,he is so kind. But I don't want to play, or sing, or say anything.I'll work hard and not trouble anyone, and you'll take care of me,Jo, so I'll go."
"That's my good girl. You do try to fight off your shyness,and I love you for it. Fighting faults isn't easy, as I know, anda cheery word kind of gives a lift. Thank you, Mother," And Jogave the thin cheek a grateful kiss, more precious to Mrs. Marchthan if it had given back the rosy roundness of her youth.
"I had a box of chocolate drops, and the picture I wanted tocopy," said Amy, showing her mail.
"And I got a note from Mr. Laurence, asking me to come overand play to him tonight, before the lamps are lighted, and I shallgo," added Beth, whose friendship with the old gentleman prosperedfinely.
"Now let's fly round, and do double duty today, so that we canplay tomorrow with free minds," said Jo, preparing to replace herpen with a broom.
When the sun peeped into the girls' room early next morningto promise them a fine day, he saw a comical sight. Each hadmade such preparation for the fete as seemed necessary and proper.Meg had an extra row of little curlpapers across her forehead, Johad copiously anointed her afflicted face with cold cream, Bethhad taken Joanna to bed with her to atone for the approachingseparation, and Amy had capped the climax by putting a colthespinon her nose to uplift the offending feature. It was one of thekind artists use to hold the paper on their drawing boards,therefore quite appropriate and effective for the purpose it was nowbeing put. This funny spectacle appeared to amuse the sun, forhe burst out with such radiance that Jo woke up and roused hersisters by a hearty laugh at Amy's ornament.
Sunshine and laughter were good omens for a pleasure party,and soon a lively bustle began in both houses. Beth, who wasready first, kept reporting what went on next door, and enlivenedher sisters' toilets by frequent telegrams from the window.
"There goes the man with the tent! I see Mrs. Barker doingup the lunch in a hamper and a great basket. Now Mr. Laurence islooking up at the sky and the weathercock. I wish he would gotoo. There's Laurie, looking like a sailor, nice boy! Oh, mercyme! Here's a carriage full of people, a tall lady, a little girl,and two dreadful 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 manwho bowed to you one day when we were shopping?"
"So it is. How queer that he should come. I thought he wasat the mountains. There is Sallie. I'm glad she got back in time.Am I all right, Jo?" cried Meg in a flutter.
"A regular daisy. Hold up your dress and put your hat onstraight, it looks sentimental tipped that way and will fly offat the first puff. Now then, come on!"
"Oh, Jo, you are not going to wear that awful hat? It's tooabsurd! You shall not make a guy of yourself," remonstrated Meg,as Jo tied down with a red ribbon the broad-brimmed, old-fashionedleghorn Laurie had sent for a joke.
"I just will, though, for it's capital, so shady, light, and big.It will make fun, and I don't mind being a guy if I'm comfortable."With that Jo marched straight away and the rest followed,a bright little band of sisters, all looking their best in summersuits, with happy faces under the jaunty hatbrims.
Laurie ran to meet and present them to his friends in themost cordial manner. The lawn was the reception room, and forseveral minutes a lively scene was enacted there. Meg wasgrateful to see that Miss Kate, though twenty, was dressed witha simplicity which American girls would do well to imitate, andwho was much flattered by Mr. Ned's assurances that he cameespecially to see her. Jo understood why Laurie `primmed uphis mouth' when speaking of Kate, for that young lady had astandoff-don't-touch-me air, which contrasted strongly with thefree and easy demeanor of the other girls. Beth took an observationof the new boys and decided that the lame one was not `dreadful',but gentle and feeble, and she would be kind to him on thataccount. Amy found Grace a well-mannered, merry, little person,and after staring dumbly at one another for a few minutes, theysuddenly became very good friends.
Tents, lunch, and croquet utensils having been sent onbeforehand, the party was soon embarked, and the two boatspushed off together, leaving Mr. Laurence waving his hat on theshore. Laurie and Jo rowed one boat, Mr. Brooke and Ned theother, while Fred Vaughn, the riotous twin, did his best toupset both by paddling about in a wherry like a disturbed waterbug. Jo's funny hat deserved a vote of thanks, for it was ofgeneral utility. It broke the ice in the beginning by producinga laugh, it created quite a refreshing breeze, flapping to andfro as she rowed, and would make an excellent umbrella for thewhole party, if a shower came up, she said. Miss Kate decidedthat she was `odd', but rather clever, and smiled upon her fromafar.
Meg, in the other boat, was delightfully situated, face toface with the rowers, who both admired the prospect and featheredtheir oars with uncommon `skill and dexterity'. Mr. Brooke wasa grave, silent young man, with handsome brown eyes and a pleasantvoice. Meg liked his quiet manners and considered him a walkingencyclopedia of useful knowledge. He never talked to her much, buthe looked at her a good deal, and she felt sure that he did notregard her with aversion. Ned, being in college, of course puton all the airs which freshmen think it their bounden duty toassume. He was not very wise, but very good-natured, and altogetheran excellent person to carry on a picnic. Sallie Gardiner wasabsorbed in keeping her white pique dress clean and chattering withthe ubiquitous Fred, who kept Beth in constant terror by his pranks.
It was not far to Longmeadow, but the tent was pitched andthe wickets down by the time they arrived. A pleasant green field,with three wide-spreading oaks in the middle and a smooth strip ofturf for croquet.
"Welcome to Camp Laurence!" said the young host, as theylanded with exclamations of delight.
"Brooke is commander in chief, I am commissary general, theother fellows are staff officers, and you, ladies, are company.The tent is for your especial benefit and that oak is your drawingroom, this is the messroom and the third is the camp kitchen. Now,let's have a game before it gets hot, and then we'll see aboutdinner."
Frank, Beth, Amy, and Grace sat down to watch the gameplayed by the other eight. Mr. Brooke chose Meg, Kate, and Fred.Laurie took Sallie, Jo, and Ned. The English played well, butthe Americans played better, and contested every inch of theground as strongly as if the spirit of `76 inspired them. Jo andFred had several skirmishes and once narrowly escaped high words.Jo was through the last wicket and had missed the stroke, whichfailure ruffled her a good deal. Fred was close behind her andhis turn came before hers. He gave a stroke, his ball hit thewicket, and stopped an inch on the wrong side. No one was verynear, and running up to examine, he gave it a sly nudge with histoe, which put it just an inch on the right side.
"I'm through! Now, Miss Jo, I'll settle you, and get infirst," cried the young gentleman, swinging his mallet for anotherblow.
"You pushed it. I saw you. It's my turn now," said Josharply.
"Upon my word, I didn't move it. It rolled a bit, perhaps,but that is allowed. So, stand off please, and let me have a goat the stake."
"We don't cheat in America, but you can, if you choose," saidJo angrily.
"Yankees are a deal the most tricky, everybody knows. Thereyou go!" returned Fred, croqueting her ball far away.
Jo opened her lips to say something rude, but checked herselfin time, colored up to her forehead and stood a minute, hammeringdown a wicket with all her might, while Fred hit the stake anddeclared himself out with much exultation. She went off to get herball, and was a long time finding it among the bushes, but she cameback, looking cool and quiet, and waited her turn patiently. Ittook several strokes to regain the place she had lost, and when shegot there, the other side had nearly won, for Kate's ball was thelast but one and lay near the stake.
"By George, it's all up with us! Goodbye, Kate. Miss Joowes me one, so you are finished," cried Fred excitedly, as theyall drew near to see the finish.
"Yankees have a trick of being generous to their enemies,"said Jo, with a look that made the lad redden, "especially whenthey beat them," she added, as, leaving Kate's ball untouched, shewon the game by a clever stroke.
Laurie threw up his hat, then remembered that it wouldn't doto exult over the defeat of his guests, and stopped in the middleof the cheer to whisper to his friend, "Good for you, Jo! He didcheat, I saw him. We can't tell him so, but he won't do it again,take my word for it."
Meg drew her aside, under pretense of pinning up a loosebraid, and said approvingly, "It was dreadfully provoking, but youkept your temper, and I'm so glad, Jo."
"Don't praise me, Meg, for I could box his ears this minute.I should certainly have boiled over if I hadn't stayed among thenettles till I got my rage under control enough to hold my tongue..It's simmering now, so I hope he'll keep out of my way," returnedJo, biting her lips as she glowered at Fred from under her big hat.
"Time for lunch," said Mr. Brooke, looking at his watch."Commissary general, will you make the fire and get water, whileMiss March, Miss Sallie, and I spread the table? Who can make goodcoffee?"
"Jo can," said Meg, glad to recommend her sister. So Jo,feeling that her late lessons in cookery were to do her honor, wentto preside over the coffeepot, while the children collected drysticks, and the boys made a fire and got water from a spring nearby. Miss Kate sketched and Frank talked to Beth, who was makinglittle mats of braided rushes to serve as plates.
The commander in chief and his aides soon spread thetablecloth with an inviting array of eatables and drinkables,prettily decorated with green leaves. Jo announced that the coffeewas ready, and everyone settled themselves to a hearty meal, for youthis seldom dyspeptic, and exercise develops wholesome appetites.A very merry lunch it was, for everything seemed fresh and funny, andfrequent peals of laughter startled a venerable horse who fed nearby. There was a pleasing inequality in the table, which producedmany mishaps to cups and plates, acorns dropped in the milk, littleblack ants partook of the refreshments without being invited, andfuzzy caterpillars swung down from the tree to see what was goingon. Three white-headed children peeped over the fence, and anobjectionable dog barked at them from the other side of the riverwith all his might and main.
"There's salt here," said Laurie, as he handed Jo a saucerof berries.
"Thank you, I prefer spiders," she replied, fishing up twounwary little ones who had gone to a creamy death. "How dareyou remind me of that horrid dinner party, when your's is sonice in every way?' added Jo, as they both laughed and ate outof one plate, the china having run short.
"I had an uncommonly good time that day, and haven't gotover it yet. This is no credit to me, you know, I don't doanything. It's you and Meg and Brooke who make it all go, andI'm no end obliged to you. what shall we do when we can't eatanymore?" asked Laurie, feeling that his trump card had beenplayed when lunch was over.
"Have games till it's cooler. I brought Authors, and I daresay Miss Kate knows something new and nice. Go and ask her. She'scompany, and you ought to stay with her more."
"Aren't you company too? I thought she'd suit Brooke, buthe keeps talking to Meg, and Kate just stares at them through thatridiculous glass of hers'. I'm going, so you needn't try to preachpropriety, for you can't do it, Jo."
Miss Kate did know several new games, and as the girls wouldnot, and the boys could not, eat any more, they all adjourned tothe drawing room to play Rig-marole.
"One person begins a story, any nonsense you like, and tellsas long as he pleases, only taking care to stop short at someexciting point, when the next takes it up and does the same. It'svery funny when well done, and makes a perfect jumble of tragicalcomical stuff to laugh over. Please start it, Mr. Brooke," saidKate, with a commanding air, which surprised Meg, who treated thetutor with as much respect as any other gentleman.
Lying on the grass at the feet of the two young ladies, Mr.Brooke obediently began the story, with the handsome brown eyessteadily fixed upon the sunshiny river.
"Once on a time, a knight went out into the world to seekhis fortune, for he had nothing but his sword and his shield.He traveled a long while, nearly eight-and-twenty years, andhad a hard time of it, till he came to the palace of a good oldking, who had offered a reward to anyone who could tame and traina fine but unbroken colt, of which he was very fond. The knightagreed to try, and got on slowly but surely, for the colt was agallant fellow, and soon learned to love his new master, thoughhe was freakish and wild. Every day, when he gave his lessons tothis pet of the king's, the knight rode him through the city, andas he rode, he looked everywhere for a certain beautiful face,which he had seen many times in his dreams, but never found. Oneday, as he went prancing down a quiet street, he saw at the windowof a ruinous castle the lovely face. He was delighted, inquiredwho lived in this old castle, and was told that several captiveprincesses were kept there by a spell, and spun all day to layup money to buy their liberty. The knight wished intensely thathe could free them, but he was poor and could only go by eachday, watching for the sweet face and longing to see it out inthe sunshine. At last he resolved to get into the castle andask how he could help them. He went and knocked. The greatdoor flew open, and he beheld . .."
"A ravishingly lovely lady, who exclaimed, with a cry ofrapture, `At last! At last!'" continued Kate, who had readFrench novels, and admired the style. "`Tis she!' cried CountGustave, and fell at her feet in an ecstasy of joy. `Oh, rise!'she said, extending a hand of marble fairness. `Never! Till youtell me how I may rescue you, ' swore the knight, still kneeling.`Alas, my cruel fate condemns me to remain here till my tyrantis destroyed.' `Where is the villain?' `In the mauve salon. Go,brave heart, and save me from despair.' `I obey, and returnvictorious or dead!' With these thrilling words he rushed away,and flinging open the door of the mauve salon, was about to enter,when he received..."
"A stunning blow from the big Greek lexicon, which an oldfellow in a black gown fired at him," said Ned. "Instantly, SirWhat's-his-name recovered himself, pitched the tyrant out of thewindow, and turned to join the lady, victorious, but with a bumpon his brow, found the door locked, tore up the curtains, made arope ladder, got halfway down when the ladder broke, and he wentheadfirst into the moat, sixty feet below. Could swim like aduck, paddled round the castle till he came to a little doorguarded by two stout fellows, knocked their heads together tillthey cracked like a couple of nuts, then, by a trifling exertionof his prodigious strength, he smashed in the door, went up apair of stone steps covered with dust a foot thick, toads as bigas your fist, and spiders that would frighten you into hysterics,MIss March. At the top of these steps he came plump upon a sightthat took his breath away and chilled his blood..."
"A tall figure, all in white with a veil over its face and alamp in its wasted hand," went on Meg. "It beckoned, glidingnoiselessly before him down a corridor as dark and cold as anytomb. Shadowy effigies in armor stood on either side, a deadsilence reigned, the lamp burned blue, and the ghostly figure everand anon turned its face toward him, showing the glitter of awfuleyes through its white veil. They reached a curtained door, behindwhich sounded lovely music. He sprang forward to enter, but thespecter plucked him back, and waved threateningly before him a..."
"Snuffbox," said Jo, in a sepulchral tone, which convulsed theaudience. "`Thankee, ' said the knight politely, as he took a pinchand sneezed seven times so violently that his head fell off. `Ha!Ha!' laughed the ghost, and having peeped through the keyhole at theprincesses spinning away for dear life, the evil spirit picked upher victim and put him in a large tin box, where there were elevenother knights packed together without their heads, like sardines,who all rose and began to..."
"Dance a hornpipe," cut in Fred, as Jo paused for breath, "and,as they danced, the rubbishy old castle turned to a man-of-war infull sail. `Up with the jib, reef the tops'l halliards, helm hardalee, and man the guns!' roared the captain, as a Portuguese piratehove in sight, with a flag black as ink flying from her foremast.`Go in and win, my hearties!' says the captain, and a tremendousfight began. Of course the British beat, they always do."
"No, they don't!" cried Jo, aside.
"Having taken the pirate captain prisoner, sailed slap overthe schooner, whose decks were piled high with dead and whoselee scuppers ran blood, for the order had been `Cutlasses, anddie hard!' `Bosun's mate, take a bight of the flying-jib sheet,and start this villain if he doesn't confess his sins doublequick, ' said the British captain. The Portuguese held his tonguelike a brick, and walked the plank, while the jolly tars cheeredlike mad. But the sly dog dived, came up under the man-of-war,scuttled her, and down she went, with all sail set, `To thebottom of the sea, sea, sea' where...""Oh, gracious! What shall I say?" cried Sallie, as Fredended his rigmarole, in which he had jumbled together pell-mellnautical phrases and facts out of one of his favorite books."Well, they went to the bottom, and a nice mermaid welcomed them,but was much grieved on finding the box of headless knights, andkindly pickled them in brine, hoping to discover the mysteryabout them, for being a woman, she was curious. By-and-by a divercame down, and the mermaid said, `I'll give you a box of pearlsif you can take it up, ' for she wanted to restore the poor thingsto life, and couldn't raise the heavy load herself. So the diverhoisted it up, and was much disappointed on opening it to findno pearls. He left it in a great lonely field, where it wasfound by a..."
"Little goose girl, who kept a hundred fat geese in the field,"said Amy, when Sallie's invention gave out. "The little girl wassorry for them, and asked an old woman what she should do to helpthem. `Your geese will tell you, they know everything.' said theold woman. So she asked what she should use for new heads, sincethe old ones were lost, and all the geese opened their hundredmouths and screamed..."
"`Cabbages!'" continued Laurie promptly. "`Just the thing, 'said the girl, and ran to get twelve fine ones from her garden.She put them on, the knights revived at once, thanked her, andwent on their way rejoicing, never knowing the difference, forthere were so many other heads like them in the world that no onethought anything of it. The knight in whom I'm interest went backto find the pretty face, and learned that the princesses had spunthemselves free and all gone and married, but one. He was in agreat state of mind at that, and mounting the colt, who stood byhim through thick and thin, rushed to the castle to see which wasleft. Peeping over the hedge, he saw the queen of his affectionspicking flowers in her garden. `Will you give me a rose?' saidhe. `You must come and get it. I can't come to you, it isn'tproper, ' said she, as sweet as honey. He tried to climb overthe hedge, but it seemed to grow higher and higher. Then hetried to push through, but it grew thicker and thicker, and hewas in despair. So he patiently broke twig after twig till hehad made a little hole through which he peeped, saying imploringly,`Let me in! Let me in!' But the pretty princess did not seemto understand, for she picked her roses quietly, and left himto fight his way in. Whether he did or not, Frank will tell you."
"I can't. I'm not playing, I never do," said Frank, dismayedat the sentimental predicament out of which he was to rescue theabsurd couple. Beth had disappeared behind Jo, and Grace wasasleep.
"So the poor knight is to be left sticking in the hedge, ishe?" asked Mr. Brooke, still watching the river, and playingwith the wild rose in his buttonhole.
"I guess the princess gave him a posy, and opened the gateafter a while," said Laurie, smiling to himself, as he threwacorns at his tutor.
"What a piece of nonsense we have made! With practice wemight do something quite clever. 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 outin turn, and the person who draws at the number has to answertruly any question put by the rest. It's great fun."
"Let's try it," said Jo, who liked new experiments.
Miss Kate and Mr. Booke, 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.
"Which do you like best?" from Fred.
"Jo, of course."
"What silly questions you ask!" And Jo gave a disdainfulshrug 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, by way of testingin her the virtue he lacked himself.
"A quick temper."
"What do you most wish for?" said Laurie.
"A pair of boot lacings," 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?"And she slyly smiled in his disappointed face.
"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 noddedand 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.
"Don't you think the English nation perfect in every respect?"asked Sallie.
"I should be ashamed of myself if I didn't."
"He's a true John Bull. Now, Miss Sallie, you shall havea chance without waiting to draw. I'll harrrow up your feelingsfirst by asking if you don't think you are something of a flirt,"said Laurie, as Jo nodded to Fred as a sign that peace was declared.
"You impertinent boy! Of course I'm not," exclaimed Sallie,with an air that proved the contrary.
"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 play. Let's have asensible game of Authors to refresh our minds," proposed Jo.
Ned, frank, and the little girls joined in this, and while itwent on, the three elders sat apart, talking. Miss Kate took outher sketch again, and Margaret watched her, while Mr. Brooke layon the grass with a book, which he did not read.
"How beautifully you do it! I wish I could draw," said Meg,with mingled admiration and regret in her voice.
"Why don't you learn? I should think you had taste and talentfor it," replied Miss Kate graciously.
"I haven't time."
"Your mamma prefers other accomplishments, I fancy. So didmine, but I proved to her that I had talent by taking a few lessonsprivately, and then she was quite willing I should go on. Can'tyou do the same with your governess?"
"I have none."
"I forgot young ladies in America go to school more than withus. Very fine schools they are, too, Papa says. You go to aprivate one, I suppose?"
"I don't go at all. I am a governess myself."
"Oh. indeed!" said Miss Kate, but she might as well have said,"Dear me, how dreadful!" for her tone implied it, and something inher face made Meg color, and wish she had not been so frank.
Mr. Brooke looked up and said quickly, Young ladies in Americalove independence as much as their ancestors did, and are admiredand respected for supporting themselves."
"Oh, yes, of course it's very nice and proper in them to doso. We have many most respectable and worthy young women who dothe same and are employed by the nobility, because, being thedaughters of gentlemen, they are both well bred and accomplished,you know," said Miss Kate in a patronizing tone that hurt Meg'spride, and made her work seem not only more distasteful, butdegrading.
"Did the German song suit, Miss March?" inquired Mr. Brooke,breaking an awkward pause.
"Oh, yes! It was very sweet, and I'm much obliged to whoevertranslated it for me." And Meg's downcast face brightened as she spoke.
"Don't you read German?" asked Miss Kate with a look of surprise.
"Not very well. My father, who taught me, is away, and I don'tget on very fast alone, for I've no one to correct my pronunciation."
"Try a little now. Here is Schiller's Mary Stuart and a tutor wholoves to teach." And Mr. Brooke laid his book on her lap withan inviting smile.
"It's so hard I'm afraid to try," said Meg, grateful, but bashfulin the presence of the accomplished young lady beside her.
"I'll read a bit to encourage you." And Miss Kate read oneof the most beautiful passages in a perfectly correct butperfectly expressionless manner.
Mr. Brooke made no comment as she returned the book to Meg,who said innocently, "I thought it was poetry.""Some of it is. Try this passage."
There was a queer smile about Mr. Brooke's mouth as heopened at poor Mary's lament.
Meg obediently following the long grass-blade which her newtutor used to point with, read slowly and timidly, unconsciouslymaking poetry of the hard words by the soft intonation of hermusical voice. Down the page went the green guide, and presently,forgetting her listener in the beauty of the sad scene, Meg readas if alone, giving a little touch of tragedy to the words of theunhappy queen. If she had seen the brown eyes then, she wouldhave stopped short, but she never looked up, and the lesson wasnot spoiled for her.
"Very well indeed!" said Mr. Brooke, as she paused, quite ignoringher many mistakes, and looking as if he did indeed love to teach.
Miss Kate put up her glass, and, having taken a survey ofthe little tableau before her, shut her sketch book, saying withcondescension, "You've a nice accent and in time will be a cleverreader. I advise you to learn, for German is a valuableaccomplishment to teachers. I must look after Grace, she is romping."And Miss Kate strolled away, adding to herself with a shrug, "Ididn't come to chaperone a governess, though she is young andpretty. What odd people these Yankees are. I'm afraid Lauriewill be quite spoiled among them."
"I forgot that English people rather turn up their noses atgovernesses and don't treat them as we do," said Meg, lookingafter the retreating figure with an annoyed expression.
"Tutors also have rather a hard time of it there, as I knowto my sorrow. There's no place like America for us workers, MissMargaret." And Mr. Brooke looked so contented and cheerful thatMeg was ashamed to lament her hard lot.
"I'm glad I live in it then. I don't like my work, but I geta good deal of satisfaction out of it after all, so I won't complain.I only wished I liked teaching as you do."
"I think you would if you had Laurie for a pupil. I shallbe very sorry to lose him next year," said Mr. Brooke, busilypunching holes in the turf.
"Going to college, I suppose?" Meg's lips asked the question,but her eyes added, "And what becomes of you?"
"Yes, it's high time he went, for he is ready, and as soon ashe is off, I shall turn soldier. I am needed."
"I am glad of that!" exclaimed Meg. "I should think everyyoung man would want to go, though it is hard for the mothersand sisters who stay at home," she added sorrowfully."I have neither, and very few friends to care whether I liveor die," said Mr. Brooke rather bitterly as he absently put thedead rose in the hole he had made and covered it up, like alittle grave.
"Laurie and his grandfather would care a great deal, and weshould all be very sorry to have any harm happen to you," saidMeg heartily.
"Thank you, that sounds pleasant," began Mr. Brooke, lookingcheerful again, but before he could finish his speech, Ned, mountedon the old horse, came lumbering up to display his equestrian skillbefore the young ladies, and there was no more quiet that day.
"Don't you love to ride?" asked Grace of Amy, as they stoodresting after a race round the field with the others, led by Ned.
"I dote upon it. My sister, Meg, used to ride when Papa wasrich, but we don't keep any horses now, except Ellen Tree," addedAmy, laughing.
"Tell me about Ellen Tree. Is it a donkey?" asked Gracecuriously.
"Why, you see, Jo is crazy about horses and so am I, butwe've only got an old sidesaddle and no horse. Out in ourgarden is an apple tree that has a nice low branch, so Jo putthe saddle on it, fixed some reins on the part that turns up,and we bounce away on Ellen Tree whenever we like."
"How funny!" laughed Grace. "I have a pony at home, andride nearly every day in the park with Fred and Kate. It's verynice, for my friends go too, and the Row is full of ladies andgentlemen."
"Dear, how charming! I hope I shall go abroad some day,but I'd rather go to Rome than the row," said Amy, who hadnot the remotest idea what the Row was and wouldn't have askedfor the world.
Frank, sitting just behind the little girls, heard what theywere saying, and pushed his crutch away from him with an impatientgesture as he watched the active lads going through all sorts ofcomical gymnastics. Beth, who was collecting the scatteredAuthor cards, looked up and said, in her shy yet friendly way,"I'm afraid you are tired. Can I do anything for you?"
"Talk to me, please. It's dull, sitting by myself," answeredFrank, who had evidently been used to being made much of at home.
If he asked her to deliver a Latin oration, it would nothave seemed a more impossible task to bashful Beth, but therewas no place to run to, no Jo to hide behind now, and the poorboy looked so wistfully at her that she bravely resolved to try.
"What do you like to talk about?" she asked, fumbling overthe cards and dropping half as she tried to tie them up.
"Well, I like to hear about cricket and boating and hunting,"said Frank, who had not yet learned to suit his amusements tohis strength.
My heart! What shall I do? I don't know anything about them,thought Beth, and forgetting the boy's misfortune in her flurry,she said, hoping to make him talk, "I never saw any hunting, butI suppose you know all about it."
"I did once, but I can never hunt again, for I got hurt leapinga confounded five-barred gate, so there are no more horses andhounds for me," said Frank with a sigh that made Beth hate herselffor her innocent blunder.
"Your deer are much prettier than our ugly buffaloes," shesaid, turning to the prairies for help and feeling glad that shehad read one of the boys' books in which Jo delighted.
Buffaloes proved soothing and satisfactory, and in her eagernessto amuse another, Beth forgot herself, and was quite unconsciousof her sisters' surprise and delight at the unusual spectacleof Beth talking away to one of the dreadful boys, against whom shehad begged protection.
"Bless her heart! She pities him, so she is good to him,"aid Jo, beaming at her from the croquet ground.
"I always said she was a little saint," added Meg, as ifthere could be no further doubt of it.
"I haven't heard Frank laugh so much for ever so long," saidGrace to Amy, as they sat discussing dolls and making tea setsout of the acorn cups.
"My sister Beth is a very fastidious girl, when she likes to be,"said Amy, well pleased at Beth's success. She meant `facinating',but as Grace didn't know the exact meaning of either word,fastidious sounded well and made a good impression.
An impromptu circus, fox and geese, and an amicable game ofcroquet finished the afternoon. At sunset the tent was struck,hampers packed, wickets pulled up, boats loaded, and the wholeparty floated down the river, singing at the tops of their voices.Ned, getting sentimental, warbled a serenade with the pensiverefrain...
Alone, alone, ah! Woe, alone,
and at the lines...
We each are young, we each have a heart,Oh, why should we stand thus coldly apart?
he looked at Meg with such a lackadiasical expression that shelaughed outright and spoiled his song.
"How can you be so cruel to me?" he whispered, under coverof a lively chorus. "You've kept close to that starched-upEnglishwoman all day, and now you snub me."
"I didn't mean to, but you looked so funny I really couldn'thelp it," replied Meg, passing over the first part of his reproach,for it was quite true that she had shunned him, remembering theMoffat party and the talk after it.
Ned was offended and turned to Sallie for consolation, sayingto her rather pettishly, "There isn't a bit of flirt in that girl,is there?"
"Not a particle, but she's a dear," returned Sallie, defendingher friend even while confessing her shortcomings.
"She's not a stricken deer anyway," said Ned, trying to bewitty, and succeeding as well as very young gentlemen usually do.
On the lawn where it had gathered, the little party separatedwith cordial good nights and good-bys, for the Vaughns were goingto Canada. As the four sisters went home through the garden, MissKate looked after them, saying, without the patronizing tone inher voice, "In spite of their demonstrative manners, American girlsare very nice when one knows them."
"I quite agree with you," said Mr. Brooke.