第二天乔的脸色令人捉 摸不透。那个秘密在她心头挥之不去，她很难装得若无其事。梅格觉察到她神秘兮兮，心事重重，但她不忙追问，她知道让乔就范的最好办法是反其道而行之，她肯 定只要她不问，乔一定自己把心事全倒出来。令她颇为诧异的是，乔仍然守口如瓶，而且摆出一副傲慢的神态，这可把梅格气坏了，她转而也装出一副凛然不可犯的 神气，寡言少语，一应大小事情只和母亲商量。马奇太太此时已接替了乔的护理工作，并嘱久困在家的女儿好好休息，尽兴玩乐，这么一来，乔倒没有人烦她了。艾 美又不在家，劳里便成了唯一可以慰藉她的人；她虽然十分喜欢劳里作伴，此刻却有点怕他，因为他有一种不可救药的劣根--爱戏弄别人，她担心他会用甜言蜜语 把秘密从她口里套出来。
她果然没有估错，这位爱调皮捣蛋的小伙子发觉乔有点异样，疑心顿起，立即穷追不舍，乔从此开始受苦受难。他诱哄、贿赂、嘲笑、威胁、责备；装漠不关 心，以求出其不意地套出真相；宣称他知道，然后又说他不在乎；最后，凭着这般锲而不舍的劲头，他终于满意地相信此事与梅格和布鲁克先生有关。自家私人教师 的秘密竟不让他知道，他心中愤愤不平，于是苦苦思索如何好好地出一口怨气。
“她在空气中感受到这种东西--我的意思是，爱--而且她变得很快。那些症状她几乎全得了--颤抖、暴躁、不吃、不睡，背着人愁眉锁眼。我还发现她 唱他给她的那首歌，一次她竟然像您一样说'约翰'，然后又转过身去，脸红得像朵罂粟花。我们到底该怎么办？“乔说。看样子她准备采取任何措施，无论这些措 施是多么猛烈。
我再也不能控制自己的感情，务必在我归来前知道自己的命运。我还不敢告诉你父母，但我想如果他们知道我们相爱，他们一定会同意。劳伦斯先生将帮我找 到一个好职位，而你，我的宝贝，将令我幸福。我求你先别跟你家里人说什么，只请写上一句知心话交劳里转给衷心爱你的约翰。““噢，这个小坏蛋！我为妈妈保 密，他就这样报复我。我去把他痛骂一顿，带他过来求饶，“乔叫道，恨不得立即把真凶缉拿归案。但母亲拦住她，脸上带着一种少见的神情，说道--“站住， 乔，你首先得澄清自己。你一向胡闹惯了，我怀疑这事你也有一手。““我发誓，妈妈，我没有！我从来没看过这封信，更不知道这是怎么一回事，我绝无虚言！ “乔说话时神情极其认真，母亲和梅格相信了她。“如果我参与了这事，我会干得更漂亮一些，写一封合情合理的信。我想你们也知道布鲁克先生不会写出这种东 西，“她接着说，轻蔑地把信往地下一抛。
“我从劳里那儿收到第一封信，他看上去似乎对这事一无所知，“梅格低着头说，“我一开始的时候感到惶恐不安，打算告诉您，后来想起你们十分喜欢布鲁 克先生，我便想，即使我把这件小小的心事藏上几天，你们也不会怪我的。我真傻，以为这事没有人知道，而当我在考虑怎么回答时，我觉得自己就像书里头那些坠 入爱河的女孩子。原谅我，妈妈，我做的傻事现在得到了报应；我再也没脸见他了。““你跟他说了些什么？“马奇太太问。
“我只说我年龄尚小，还不适宜谈这种事情，说我不想瞒着你们，他必须跟父亲说。我对他的心意万分感激，愿做他的朋友，但仅此而已，其他以后再说。“ 马奇太太听完露出了欣慰的笑容，乔双手一拍，笑着叫道：“你可真是个卡罗琳·珀西。她是谨言慎行的楷模哩！往下说，梅格。他对此怎么说？““他回了一封风 格完全不同的信，告诉我他从来没有写过什么情信，他很遗憾我那淘气捣蛋的妹妹乔竟这样冒用我们的名字。信中言辞委婉，对我十分敬重，但想想我有多尴尬！ “梅格靠在母亲身上，哭得成了个泪人儿，乔急得一面叫着劳里的名字，一面在屋子里团团乱转。忽然，她停下来，拿起两张纸条，细细看了一回，断然说道：“我 看这两封信没有一封是布鲁克写的，都是特迪写的，他把你的信留着，好向我抖抖威风，因为我不把自己的心事告诉他。““不要藏什么心事，乔。告诉妈妈，免招 灾祸，我本该那么做的，“梅格警告道。
乔跑出去，马奇太太轻声跟梅格说出布鲁克先生的真实感情。“嗯，亲爱的，你自己的意思呢？你是否爱他？爱得足以等到他有能力为你筑一个爱巢的那一 天？或者你宁可暂时无牵无挂、无拘无束？““我吃够了担惊受怕的苦头，起码很长一段时间内我都不想跟情呀爱的有什么联系了，也许永远都不，“梅格使着性子 说道，“如果约翰不知道这桩荒唐事，那就别告诉他，让乔和劳里闭上嘴。我不想被人蒙在鼓里当傻子耍--这是个耻辱！“梅格素来性格温柔，此时却被这个恶作 剧气得使上了性子，自尊心也受到了伤害，马奇太太连忙劝慰她，允诺一定万分小心，绝不泄漏秘密。大厅里传来了劳里的脚步声。梅格立即躲入书房，马奇太太独 自一人接待这位"罪犯"。乔怕他不来，并没有说明把他叫来的原因，但他一看到马奇太太的脸色就明白了，于是愧疚不安地站着，帽子转过来又转过去，让人一眼 就看出他正是罪魁祸首。乔撤出了房间，但却像个看守一样在客厅里大步徘徊，仿佛担心囚犯会逃走似的。
“我深知自己罪无可恕，你们一个月不跟我说话我也是罪有应得，但你们不会这样对我的，是吗？“他说话时可怜巴巴地把双手十指交叉叠在一起，他的声调 具有不可抗拒的说服力，大家都没法再对他横眉怒目，尽管他犯下了如此恶行。梅格宽恕了他，马奇太太虽然竭力保持严肃，但听他说愿意做牛做马将功折罪，愿意 在受到伤害的梅格面前卑躬屈膝，那凝重的脸色也缓和下来。
“在的，小姐。但我想他现在不便见客。““为什么？他病了吗？““唉，不是，小姐，他和劳里先生当众吵了一架，小先生不知为什么发脾气，惹得老先生 火气冲天，所以我这会不敢走近他。““劳里在哪儿？““关在自己的房间里，凭我怎样敲门他都不理。我不知道拿这顿饭这么办，饭菜准备好了，却没有人来 吃。““我去看看怎么回事。我不怕他们。“乔走上去，来到劳里的小书房前，使劲敲门。
“就因为我不肯告诉他你妈妈为什么把我叫去。我答应过不说的，当然不能失信。““你不能换个法儿满足一下他老人家吗？““不能，他就是要听真相，完 完整整的真相，其他一概不听。假如能不拉扯上梅格，我可以告诉他部分真相。既然不能，我便一句话也不说，由他去骂，最后他竟一把抓住我的领口。我气坏了， 赶紧脱身溜掉，担心自己气昏了头，会做出什么事来。““这是他不对，但我知道他后悔了，还是下去和解吧。我来帮你说。““那我宁可去死，我不过开了一个玩 笑，难道便要被你们每个人轮流教训、挨揍不成？我是对不起梅格，也已经堂堂正正地道了歉；但我不会再向谁卑躬屈膝，如果我没有做错。““但他并不知道埃“ “他应该信任我，不要把我当小孩子对待。没有用的，乔，他得明白我能够照顾自己，不需要牵着人家的围裙带子走。““真是个辣椒罐子！“乔叹道，“你说这事 该怎么解决？““哦。地应该跟我道歉，我说过这事不能告诉他，他应该相信我。““哎呀！他不会这样做的。““那我就不下去。““听我说，特迪，理智一点。 让这事过去吧，我会尽我所能解释清楚的。你总不能老呆在这里吧，这样激动有什么用呢？““我可并不打算在这里久留。我要离家出走，漂泊异乡，当爷爷想我 时，他很快就会回心转意了。““但你恐怕不该这样伤他的心。““别啰嗦。我要去华盛顿看布鲁克；那地方充满乐趣，我要无忧无虑地痛玩一常““那有多痛快！ 我恨不能也跟了去。“乔脑海里展现出一幅幅生动的军人生活画面，不觉忘记了自己现在充当的角色。
“那就一起走吧，嗨！为什么不呢？你给父亲一个惊喜，我给布鲁克一个突然袭击。这个玩笑妙不可言；干吧，乔。我们留一封平安信，然后立即出发。我有 足够的钱；这样做对你也有益无害，因为你是去看父亲。“乔似乎就要点头了，因为这个计划虽然轻率，却正适合她的性格。她早已厌倦了的禁闭式的护理生活，渴 望改变一下环境，想到父亲，想到新奇、有趣、充满魅力的军营和医院，想到自由自在的生活，她不禁意乱神迷。她憧憬地向窗外望去，一双眼睛闪闪发亮，但她的 眼光落到了对面的老屋上面，她摇摇头，伤心地作出了决定。
“真的，先生，我不能说。妈妈不许说。劳里已经坦白承认了，道了歉，并受到了重罚。我们不说出来并非要护他，而是要护另外一个人，如果你干预，那只 会徒添麻烦。请你不要管吧；我也有部分责任，不过现在没事了；我们还是把它忘掉，谈谈《漫游者》或什么令人愉快的东西吧。““去他的《漫游者》！下来向我 保证我那冒冒失失的小子没有做出什么忘恩负义、鲁莽无礼的事情。如果他做了，居然对你们恩将仇报，那我就亲手揍扁他。“此话虽然说得十分严重，却并没有吓 倒乔，因为她知道这个脾气暴躁的老绅士绝不会动他的孙子一个指头的，他说的话要反过来听。她依言走下踏梯，把恶作剧尽量轻描淡写地复述一遍，既不把梅格牵 涉进去，也不背离事实。
“噢，哎呀，不是的，先生，其实您有时对他甚至还太宠爱了一点儿，而当他淘气捣蛋时，您又稍微心急了一点儿。您看是不是这样？“乔决定这回把心里话 全倒出来，她壮着胆子说完，激动得微微颤抖，但却努力装得十分镇静。出乎意料的是--这也令她舒了一口气--老人只是把自己的眼镜啪的一声扔到桌子上，坦 诚地叫道--“你说得对，姑娘，我就是这样！我爱这孩子，但他把我折磨得受不了啦，如果这样下去，我不知道会有什么结果。““我告诉您，他要离家出走。“ 话方说出乔便后悔了；她其实是想警告他劳里不能忍受太严格的管制，希望地对小伙子能更宽容一点。
“你这莽撞鬼，怎敢这样说话？你眼里头还有没有我，这样没有规矩？这些姑娘小伙子啊！他们真会折磨人，但没有他们我们又活不下去，“他说着愉快地拧 拧她的脸颊，“去，把那小子带来吃饭，告诉他没事了，劝他别在他爷爷面前装得愁眉苦脸的，我受不了。““他不会下来的，先生；他心情很坏，因为当他说他不 能告诉你的时候，你不信他的话，我想您这样摇他大大伤害了他的感情。“乔努力装出一副可怜巴巴的样子，但一定没有装好，因为劳伦斯先生笑了，她知道她胜利 了。
来，给我一张纸，我们把这桩荒唐事来个了断。“信中所用的措辞诚恳恭敬，表达了一位绅士对伤害了另一位的深深歉意。乔在劳伦斯先生的秃顶上印了一个 吻，跑上楼把道歉信从劳里的门缝下面塞进去，透过钥匙孔谆谆告诫他要听话、有涵养，又讲了一些大道理。看到门又锁上了，她便把信留在那儿让劳里看，自己悄 悄走开，才走了几步，年青人从楼梯扶手上滑下来，站在下面等她，脸上流露出一种无比圣洁的神情。“你真好，乔！刚才有没有碰得头破血流？“他笑着说。
人人都以为云开雾散，事情就此结束了，谁知这个恶作剧却带来了严重的后果。因为虽然大家都把它忘得一干二净，梅格却把它记在心里。她虽然在人前只字 不提，心里却经常想到那位年青人，而且夜里频频做梦。一次，乔在她姐姐的书桌里头找邮票，居然搜得一张上面涂鸦般写满了"约翰·布鲁克太太"字样的纸片， 恨得她咬牙切齿，把纸片投进火中，她知道劳里的玩笑使她又恨又怕的那一天加速到来了。
Jo's face was a study next day, for the secret rather weighedupon her, and she found it hard not to look mysterious andimportant. Meg observed it, but did not trouble herself to makeinquiries, for she had learned that the best way to manage Jo wasby the law of contraries, so she felt sure of being told everythingif she did not ask. She was rather surprised, therefore,when the silence remained unbroken, and Jo assumed a patronizingair, which decidedly aggravated Meg, who in turn assumed an airof dignified reserve and devoted herself to her mother. This leftJo to her own devices, for Mrs. March had taken her place as nurse,and bade her rest, exercise, and amuse herself after her longconfinement. Amy being gone, Laurie was her only refuge, and muchas she enjoyed his society, she rather dreaded him just then, forhe was an incorrigible tease, and she feared he would coax thesecret from her.
She was quite right, for the mischief-loving lad no soonersuspected a mystery than he set himself to find it out, and ledJo a trying life of it. He wheedled, bribed, ridiculed,threatened, and scolded; affected indifference, that he might surprisethe truth from her; declared her knew, then that he didn't care;and at last, by dint of perseverance, he satisfied himself thatit concerned Meg and Mr. Brooke. Feeling indignant that he wasnot taken into his tutor's confidence, he set his wits to workto devise some proper retaliation for the slight.
Meg meanwhile had apparently forgotten the matter and wasabsorbed in preparations for her father's return, but all of asudden a change seemed to come over her, and, for a day or two,she was quite unlike herself. She started when spoken to,blushed when looked at, was very quiet, and sat over her sewing,with a timid, troubled look on her face. To her mother's inquiriesshe answered that she was quite well, and Jo's she silenced bybegging to be let alone.
"She feels it in the air--love, I mean--and she's going veryfast. She's got most of the symptoms--is twittery and cross,doesn't eat, lies awake, and mopes in corners. I caught hersinging that song he gave her, and once she said `John', as youdo, and then turned as red as a poppy. whatever shall we do?"said Jo, looking ready for any measures, however violent.
"Nothing but wait. Let her alone, be kind and patient, andFather's coming will settle everything," replied her mother.
"Here's a note to you, Meg, all sealed up. How odd! Teddynever seals mine," said Jo next day, as she distributed thecontents of the little post office.
Mrs. March and Jo were deep in their own affairs, when asound from Meg made them look up to see her staring at hernote with a frightened face.
"My child, what is it?" cried her mother, running to her,while Jo tried to take the paper which had done the mischief.
"It's all a mistake, he didn't send it. Oh, Jo, how couldyou do it?" and Meg hid her face in her hands, crying as if herheart were quite broken.
"Me! I've done nothing! What's she talking about?" criedJo, bewildered.
Meg's mild eyes kindled with anger as she pulled a crumplednote from her pocket and threw it at Jo, saying reproachfully,"You wrote it, and that bad boy helped you. How could you beso rude, so mean, and cruel to us both?"
Jo hardly heard her, for she and her mother were reading thenote, which was written in a peculiar hand.
"My Dearest Margaret,
"I can no longer restrain my passion, and must know my fatebefore I return. I dare not tell your parents yet, but I thinkthey would consent if they knew that we adored one another. Mr.Laurence will help me to some good place, and then, my sweetgirl, you will make me happy. I implore you to say nothing toyour family yet, but to send one word of hope through Laurie to,
"Your devoted John."
"Oh, the little villain! That's the way he meant to pay mefor keeping my word to Mother. I'll give him a hearty scoldingand bring him over to beg pardon," cried Jo, burning to executeimmediate justice. But her mother held her back, saying, witha look she seldom wore...
"Stop, Jo, you must clear yourself first. You have playedso many pranks that I am afraid you have had a hand in this."
"On my word, Mother, I haven't! I never saw that notebefore, and don't know anything about it, as true as I live!"said Jo, so earnestly that they believed her. "If I had takenpart in it I'd have done it better than this, and have writtena sensible note. I should think you'd have known Mr. Brookewouldn't write such stuff as that," she added, scornfullytossing down the paper.
"It's like his writing," faltered Meg, comparing it with thenote in her hand.
"Oh, Meg, you didn't answer it?" cried Mrs. March quickly.
"Yes, I did!" and Meg hid her face again, overcome with shame.
"Here's a scrape! Do let me bring that wicked boy over toexplain and be lectured. I can't rest till I get hold of him."And Jo made for the door again.
"Hush! Let me handle this, for it is worse than I thought.Margaret, tell me the whole story," commanded Mrs. March, sittingdown by Meg, yet keeping hold of Jo, lest she should fly off.
"I received the first letter from Laurie, who didn't lookas if he knew anything about it," began Meg, without looking up."I was worried at first and meant to tell you, then I rememberedhow you liked Mr. Brooke, so I thought you wouldn't mind if Ikept my little secret for a few days. I'm so silly that I likedto think no one knew, and while I was deciding what to say, Ifelt like the girls in books, who have such things to do. Forgiveme, Mother, I'm paid for my silliness now. I never can look himin the face again."
"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 speakto father. I was very grateful for his kindness, and would behis friend, but nothing more, for a long while."
Mrs. March smiled, as if well pleased, and Jo clapped herhands, exclaiming, with a laugh, "You are almost equal toCaroline Percy, who was a pattern of prudence! Tell on, Meg.What did he say to that?"
"He writes in a different way entirely, telling me that henever sent any love letter at all, and is very sorry that myroguish sister, Jo, should take liberties with our names. It'svery kind and respectful, but think how dreadful for me!"
Meg leaned against her mother, looking the image of despair,and Jo tramped about the room, calling Laurie names. All of asudden she stopped, caught up the two notes, and after lookingat them closely, said decidedly, "I don't believe Brooke eversaw either of these letters. Teddy wrote both, and keeps yoursto crow over me with because I wouldn't tell him my secret."
"Don't have any secrets, Jo. Tell it to Mother and keepout of trouble, as I should have done," said Meg warningly.
"Bless you, child! Mother told me."
"That will do, Jo. I'll comfort Meg while you go and getLaurie. I shall sift the matter to the bottom, and put a stopto such pranks at once."
Away ran Jo, and Mrs. March gently told Meg Mr. Brooke'sreal feelings. "Now, dear, what are your own? Do you love himenough to wait till her can make a home for you, or will youkeep yourself quite free for the present?"
"I've been so scared and worried, I don't want to haveanything to do with lovers for a long while, perhaps never,"
answered Meg petulantly. "If John doesn't know anything aboutthis nonsense, don't tell him, and make Jo and Laurie hold theirtongues. I won't be deceived and plagued and made a fool of.It's a shame!"
Seeing Meg's usually gentle temper was roused and herpride hurt by this mischievous joke, Mrs. March soothed herby promises of entire silence and great discretion for thefuture. The instant Laurie's step was heard in the hall, Megfled into the study, and Mrs. March received the culprit alone.Jo had not told him why he was wanted, fearing he wouldn't come,but he knew the minute he saw Mrs. March's face, and stoodtwirling his hat with a guilty air which convicted him at once.Jo was dismissed, but chose to march up and down the hall likea sentinel, having some fear that the prisoner might bolt. Thesound of voices in the parlor rose and fell for half an hour,but what happened during that interview the girls never knew.
When they were called in, Laurie was standing by theirmother with such a penitent face that Jo forgave him on thespot, but did not think it wise to betray the fact. Meg receivedhis humble apology, and was much comforted by the assurance thatBrooke knew nothing of the joke.
"I'll never tell him to my dying day, wild horses shan'tdrag it out of me, so you'll forgive me, Meg, and I'll doanything to show how out-and-out sorry I am," he added,looking very much ashamed of himself.
"I'll try, but it was a very ungentlemanly thing to do, Ididn't think you could be so sly and malicious, Laurie," repliedMeg, trying to hid her maidenly confusion under a gravelyreproachful air.
"It was altogether abominable, and I don't deserve to bespoken to for a month, but you will, though, won't you?" AndLaurie folded his hands together with such and imploring gesture,as he spoke in his irresistibly persuasive tone, that it wasimpossible to frown upon him in spite of his scandalous behavior.
Meg pardoned him, and Mrs. March's grave face relaxed, inspite of her efforts to keep sober, when she heard him declarethat he would atone for his sins by all sorts of penances, andabase himself like a worm before the injured damsel.
Jo stood aloof, meanwhile, trying to harden her heartagainst him, and succeeding only in primming up her face intoan expression of entire disapprobation. Laurie looked at heronce or twice, but as she showed no sign of relenting, he feltinjured, and turned his back on her till the others were donewith him, when he made her a low bow and walked off without aword.
As soon as he had gone, she wished she had been more forgiving,and when Meg and her mother went upstairs, she feltlonely and longed for Teddy. After resisting for some time,she yielded to the impulse, and armed with a book to return,went over to the big house.
"Is Mr. Laurence in?" asked Jo, of a housemaid, who wascoming downstairs.
"Yes, Miss, but I don't believe he's seeable just yet."
"Why not? Is he ill?"
"La, no Miss, but he's had a scene with Mr. Laurie, who isin one of his tantrums about something, which vexes the oldgentleman, so I dursn't go nigh him."
"Where is Laurie?'
"Shut up in his room, and he won't answer, though I've beena-tapping. I don't know what's to become of the dinner, for it'sready, and there's no one to eat it."
"I'll go and see what the matter is. I'm not afraid of eitherof them."
Up went Jo, and knocked smartly on the door of Laurie'slittle study.
"Stop that, or I'll open the door and make you!" called outthe young gentleman in a threatening tone.
Jo immediately knocked again. The door flew open, and inshe bounced before Laurie could recover from his surprise. Seeingthat he really was out of temper, Jo, who knew how to manage him,assumed a contrite expression, and going artistically down uponher knees, said meekly, "Please forgive me for being so cross. Icame to make it up, and can't go away till I have."
"It's all right. Get up, and don't be a goose, Jo," was thecavalier reply to her petition.
"Thank you, I will. Could I ask what's the matter? You don'tlook exactly easy in your mind."
"I've been shaken, and I won't bear it!" growled Laurie indignantly.
"Who did it?" demanded Jo.
"Grandfather. If it had been anyone else I'd have..."And the injured youth finished his sentence by an energeticgesture of the right arm.
"That's nothing. I often shake you, and you don't mind,"said Jo soothingly.
"Pooh! You're a girl, and it's fun, but I'll allow no manto shake me!"
"I don't think anyone would care to try it, if you lookedas much like a thundercloud as you do now. Why were you treatedso?"
"Just because I wouldn't say what your mother wanted me for.I'd promised not to tell, and of course I wasn't going to breakmy word."
"Couldn't you satisfy your grandpa in any other way?"
"No, he would have the truth, the whole truth, and nothingbut the truth. I'd have told my part of the scrape, if I couldwithout bringing Meg in. As I couldn't, I held my tongue, andbore the scolding till the old gentleman collared me. Then Ibolted, for fear I should forget myself."
"It wasn't nice, but he's sorry, I know, so go down andmake up. I'll help you."
"Hanged if I do! I'm not going to be lectured and pummelledby everyone, just for a bit of a frolic. I was sorry about Meg,and begged pardon like a man, but I won't do it again,when I wasn't in the wrong."
"He didn't know that."
"He ought to trust me, and not act as if I was a baby. It'sno use, Jo, he's got to learn that I'm able to take care ofmyself, and don't need anyone's apron string to hold on by.""What pepper pots you are! " sighed Jo. "How do you meanto settle this affair?"
"Well, he ought to beg pardon, and believe me when I say Ican't tell him what the fuss's about."
"Bless you! He won't do that."
"I won't go down till he does."
"Now, Teddy, be sensible. Let it pass, and I'll explainwhat I can. You can't stay here, so what's the use of beingmelodramatic?"
"I don't intend to stay here long, anyway. I'll slip off andtake a journey somewhere, and when Grandpa misses me he'll comeround fast enough."
"I dare say, but you ought not to go and worry him."
"Don't preach. I'll go to Washington and see Brooke. It'sgay there, and I'll enjoy myself after the troubles."
"What fun you'd have! I wish I could run off too," saidJo, forgetting her part of mentor in lively visions of martiallife at the capital.
"Come on, then! Why not? You go and surprise your father,and I'll stir up old Brooke. It would be a glorious joke. Let'sdo it, Jo. We'll leave a letter saying we are all right, and trotoff at once. I've got money enough. It will do you good, and noharm, as you go to your father."
For a moment Jo looked as if she would agree, for wild asthe plan was, it just suited her. She was tired of care andconfinement, longed for change, and thoughts of her fatherblended temptingly with the novel charms of camps and hospitals,liberty and fun. Her eyes kindled as they turned wistfullytoward the window, but they fell on the old house opposite,and she shook her head with sorrowful decision.
"If I was a boy, we'd run away together, and have a capital time,but as I'm a miserable girl, I must be proper and stop at home.Don't tempt me, Teddy, it's a crazy plan."
"That's the fun of it," began Laurie, who had got a willfulfit on him and was possessed to break out of bounds in some way.
"Hold your tongue!" cried Jo, covering her ears. "`Prunesand prisms' are my doom, and I may as well make up my mind toit. I came here to moralize, not to hear things that make meskip to think of."
"I know Meg would wet-blanket such a proposal, but Ithought you had more spirit," began Laurie insinuatingly.
"Bad boy, be quiet! Sit down and think of your own sins,don't go making me add to mine. If I get your grandpa toapologize for the shaking, will you give up running away?"asked Jo seriously.
"Yes, but you won't do it," answered Laurie, who wishedto make up, but felt that his outraged dignity must beappeased first.
"If I can manage the young one, I can the old one," muttered Jo,as she walked away, leaving Laurie bent over a railroad mapwith his head propped up on both hands.
"Come in!" And Mr. Laurence's gruff voice sounded grufferthan ever, as Jo tapped at his door.
"It's only me, Sir, come to return a book," she said blandly,as she entered.
"Want any more?" asked the old gentleman, looking grim andvexed, but trying not to show it.
"Yes, please. I like old Sam so well, I think I'll try thesecond volume," returned Jo, hoping to propitiate him byaccepting a second dose of Boswell's Johnson, as he had recommendedthat lively work.
The shaggy eyebrows unbent a little as he rolled the stepstoward the shelf where the Johnsonian literature was placed. Joskipped up, and sitting on the top step, affected to be searchingfor her book, but was really wondering how best to introduce thedangerous object of her visit. Mr. Laurence seemed to suspectthat something was brewing in her mind, for after taking severalbrisk turns about the room, he faced round on her, speaking soabruptly that Rasselas tumbled face downward on the floor.
"What has that boy been about? Don't try to shield him. Iknow he has been in mischief by the way he acted when he camehome. I can't get a word from him, and when I threatened toshake the truth out of him he bolted upstairs and locked himselfinto his room."
"He did wrong, but we forgave him, and all promised not tosay a word to anyone," began Jo reluctantly.
"That won't do. He shall not shelter himself behind a promisefrom you softhearted girls. If he's done anything amiss, heshall confess, beg pardon, and be punished. Out with it, Jo.I won't be kept in the dark."
Mr. Laurence looked so alarming and spoke so sharply that Jowould have gladly run away, if she could, but she was perched alofton the steps, and he stood at the foot, a lion in the path, so shehad to stay and brave it out.
"Indeed, Sir, I cannot tell. Mother forbade it. Laurie hasconfessed, asked pardon, and been punished quite enough. We don'tkeep silence to shield him, but someone else, and it will makemore trouble if you interfere. Please don't. It was partly myfault, but it's all right now. So let's forget it, and talk aboutthe RAMBLER or something pleasant."
"Hang the RAMBLER! Come down and give me your word thatthis harum-scarum boy of mine hasn't done anything ungrateful orimpertinent. If he has, after all your kindness to him, I'llthrash him with my own hands."
The threat sounded awful, but did not alarm Jo, for she knewthe irascible old gentleman would never lift a finger against hisgrandson, whatever he might say to the contrary. She obedientlydescended, and made as light of the prank as she could withoutbetraying Meg or forgetting the truth.
"Hum... ha... well, if the boy held his tonguebecause he promised, and not from obstinacy, I'll forgive him.He's a stubborn fellow and hard to manage," said Mr. Laurence,rubbing up his hair till it looked as if he had been out in a gale,and smoothing the frown from his brow with an air of relief.
"So am I, but a kind word will govern me when all the king'shorses and all the king's men couldn't," said Jo, trying to saya kind word for her friend, who seemed to get out of one scrapeonly to fall into another.
"You think I'm not kind to him, hey?" was the sharp answer.
"Oh, dear no, Sir. You are rather too kind sometimes, andthen just a trifle hasty when he tries your patience. Don't youthink you are?"
Jo was determined to have it out now, and tried to lookquite placid, though she quaked a little after her bold speech.To her great relief and surprise, the old gentleman only threwhis spectacles onto the table with a rattle and exclaimed frankly,"You're right, girl, I am! I love the boy, but he tries mypatience past bearing, and I know how it will end, if we go on so."
"I'll tell you, he'll run away." Jo was sorry for that speech the minuteit was made. She meant to warn him that Laurie would not bear much restraint,and hoped he would be more forebearing with the lad.
Mr. Laurence's ruddy face changed suddenly, and he sat down,with a troubled glance at the picture of a handsome man, whichhung over his table. It was Laurie's father, who had run awayin his youth, and married against the imperious old man's will.Jo fancied her remembered and regretted the past, and she wishedshe had held her tongue.
"He won't do it unless he is very much worried, and onlythreatens it sometimes, when he gets tired of studying. I oftenthink I should like to, especially since my hair was cut, so ifyou ever miss us, you may advertise for two boys and look amongthe ships bound for India."
She laughed as she spoke, and Mr. Laurence looked relieved,evidently taking the whole as a joke.
"You hussy, how dare you talk in that way? Where's yourrespect for me, and your proper bringing up? Bless the boysand girls! What torments they are, yet we can't do withoutthem," he said, pinching her cheeks good-humoredly. "Go andbring that boy down to his dinner, tell him it's all right, andadvise him not to put on tragedy airs with his grandfather. Iwon't bear it."
"He won't come, Sir. He feels badly because you didn't believe himwhen he said he couldn't tell. I think the shaking hurt his feelingsvery much."
Jo tried to look pathetic but must have failed, for Mr.Laurence began to laugh, and she knew the day was won.
"I'm sorry for that, and ought to thank him for not shakingme, I suppose. What the dickens does the fellow expect?" Andthe old gentleman looked a trifle ashamed of his own testiness.
"If I were you, I'd write him an apology, Sir. He says hewon't come down till he has one, and talks about Washington, andgoes on in an absurd way. A formal apology will make him seehow foolish he is, and bring him down quite amiable. Try it. Helikes fun, and this was is better than talking. I'll carry itup, and teach him his duty."
Mr. Laurence gave her a sharp look, and put on his spectacles,saying slowly, "You're a sly puss, but I don't mind beingmanaged by you and Beth. Here, give me a bit of paper,and let us have done with this nonsense."
The note was written in the terms which one gentleman woulduse to another after offering some deep insult. Jo dropped a kisson the top of Mr. Laurence's bald head, and ran up to slip theapology under Laurie's door, advising him through the keyhole tobe submissive, decorous, and a few other agreeable impossibilities.Finding the door locked again, she left the note to do its work,and was going quietly away, when the young gentleman slid downthe banisters, and waited for her at the bottom, saying, with hismost virtuous expression of countenance, "What a good fellow youare, Jo! Did you get blown up?" he added, laughing.
"No, he was pretty mild, on the whole."
"AH! I got it all round. Even you cast me off over there,and I felt just ready to go to the deuce," he began apologetically.
"Don't talk that way, turn over a new leaf and begin again,Teddy, my son."
"I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as Iused to spoil my copybooks, and I make so many beginnings therenever will be an end," he said dolefully.
"Go and eat your dinner, you'll feel better after it. Menalways croak when they are hungry," and Jo whisked out at thefront door after that.
"That's a `label' on my `sect'," answered Laurie, quotingAmy, as he went to partake of humble pie dutifully with hisgrandfather, who was quite saintly in temper and overwhelminglyrespectful in manner all the rest of the day.
Everyone thought the matter ended and the little cloudblown over, but the mischief was done, for though others forgotit, Meg remembered. She never alluded to a certain person, butshe thought of him a good deal, dreamed dreams more than ever,and once Jo, rummaging her sister's desk for stamps, found abit of paper scribbled over with the words, `Mrs. John Brooke',whereat she groaned tragically and cast it into the fire, feelingthat Laurie's prank had hastened the evil day for her.