我们稍稍聊些马奇家的 事，就此重起炉灶，轻轻松松地去参加梅格的婚礼。假若长者中有谁说这个故事中"谈情说爱"太多，我估摸他们会这样看（我不担心年青人会提出那样的反对意 见），在此我只得说，我只有拿马奇太太的话来搪塞了：“家里有四个快乐的姑娘，那边还有一个年轻帅气的邻居，你还能指望别的什么呢？“逝去的三年光阴仅仅 给这个安宁的家庭带来少许的变化。战争已经结束，马奇先生平安地回到了家里，埋头读书，忙于小教区的事务。他的性格、他的风度显示出他天生就是一个牧师 --一个沉静、勤勉的男人，富于无学究气的那种智慧、视全人类为"兄弟"的善心，以及融入性格之中的诚信，这一切使他显得既威严又谦和。
尽管贫穷和耿直的性格摒他于世俗的功利之外，这些品德依然吸引着许多可敬的人，如同芳香的花草吸引蜜蜂一般自然。自然地，他给予他们的甜蜜是他从五 十年艰辛生涯中提炼出的甜美的蜜汁。热忱的年青人发现，这位头发花白的学者内心和他们一样年轻；心事重重或满腹焦虑的妇女们本能地向他倾诉她们的烦恼与忧 愁，她们确信能从他那儿得到最亲切的同情和最明智的建议；罪人们向这位心地纯净的老人忏悔，祈得训戒与拯救；天资聪颖的人们视他为知友；自命不凡的人隐约 感到他比自己有更高尚的怀抱；即便凡夫俗子也承认，他的信仰美而且真，虽然"它们带不来实惠"。
约翰·布鲁克勇敢地服了一年兵役，受了伤，被送回家，没再让他回到部队。他的领章上既未加星也未加军阶线，然而他无愧于这些，生命与爱情之花灿然开 放是多么可贵，而他冒着失去这一切的危险，精神抖擞地毅然从军。约翰完全听从退役安排，一心一意地恢复身体，准备经商，为与梅格组合家庭挣钱。他明白事 理，刚毅自强，因此，他谢绝了劳伦斯先生的慷慨相助，接受了簿记员的职位，觉得以自己劳动所得来创业比借贷冒险要心安理得。
梅格在工作和等待中度过时光，女人气质愈加丰满，理家艺术日臻完善，人也益发娇媚，原来爱情是功效非凡的美容佳品。她怀抱女孩们通常具有的那种志向 与希冀，却又对不得不以卑微的方式开始新生活而感到有些失望。内德·莫法特刚刚娶了萨莉·加德纳，梅格不由自主地将他们华丽的居室、马车、大量的礼品、精 美的服饰与自己的比较，心中暗自希望也能拥有同样的一切。然而，不知怎么，当她想到约翰为迎接她的小家而付出的挚爱与辛劳时，那种忌妒与不平便很快消失得 无影无踪。暮霭中他们坐在一起谈论他们的那些小计划，这时，未来总是变得那么美丽而璀璨，萨利的豪华也被抛到了九霄云外，而她仿佛感到自己就是基督教世界 最富有、最幸福的姑娘。
乔再也没回到马奇婶婶那里，因为老太太是那样赏识艾美，她提出要让当今最好的老师来教她绘画，以此讨好她。由于这件好事的缘故，艾美便得去服侍这个 很难侍候的老太。这样，艾美上午去为姑老太尽义务，下午则去享受绘画的乐趣，两不爽失。乔全副心思用在文学和贝思身上。贝思患猩红热已成往事，可身体却从 此一直很虚弱。确切地说，她已没病，却再也不似往昔那样面色红润，体质健康了；然而她还是那样满怀希望，幸福而宁静，默默地忙这忙那。她乐于这样。她是每 个人的朋友、家庭中的天使，早在这以前，那些深爱她的人就已悉知这一切。
劳里为让爷爷高兴，顺从地去上了大学，现在，他尽可能地以最轻松的方式完成学业而不使自己失去快乐。他人缘极好，肯散财，有教养，天赋又高。他有一 副菩萨心肠，想把别人拉出困境，却常常让自己陷进去。他极有被骄纵的危险，就像许多别的有出息的年青人那样，如果不是拥有一个避邪的护符，也许真的如此。 这就是由于有位仁慈的老人与他的成功相维系而居于他的记忆中；还有位母亲般的朋友，照拂他如同亲生儿子。最后，也决非微不足道的便是，他知道那四位天真无 邪的姑娘全部由衷地爱他，敬重他，信赖他。
劳里也只是个"快活的性情中人"，他当然也就要嬉闹，打情骂俏，洋溢着公子哥气，随大流，感情用事，热衷体育，一如大学中流行的时尚。作弄人也被人 作弄，放言无忌，满口村词野语，不止一次地险些被停学和开除。但这些恶作剧都起因于好激动和喜欢寻开心，他也总能坦率地认错，体面地悔过，或者巧言如簧不 容置疑地辩解，从而化险为夷。事实上，他对每次侥幸脱险颇为称意自得，乐于向易受感动的姑娘绘声绘色地描述他如何成功地战胜了恼怒不已的导师、凛然不可犯 的教授，又怎样击败自己的对手。在姑娘们眼里，“我班上的男人"是英雄，“我们自己人"的丰功伟绩她们是百听不厌。劳里带她们到家里来，她们常得到这些伟 人们的恩宠。
艾美尤为欣赏这一殊荣，她成了这个圈子中的美人儿，因为这位小姐很早便意识到并懂得施展她天赋的魅力。梅格过于沉缅于她的约翰，因而不在意任何其他 的男人。贝思太羞涩，只能偷看他们几眼，仅此而已。她诧异艾美竟能如此支使他们。乔却感到如鱼得水，她发现很难控制自己不去仿效绅士的姿态、辞令和行为， 对她来说这些似乎比为年轻小姐们规定的礼仪更合于她的本性。男孩子们都非常喜欢乔，但决不会爱上她，虽然极少有谁能在艾美的石榴裙下不发出一两声充满柔情 的赞叹。说到柔情，很自然地将我们带到了"鸽屋"。
劳里为它起的名，他说这对温柔的情人非常贴切，他们"就像一对斑鸠似地一起过活，先是互相接吻，再喁喁谈情"。这是一座小屋子，屋后有个小花园，屋 前有块手帕般的袖珍草坪。梅格打算在这里建一个喷水池，植些小灌木，还要有许多可爱的花儿，虽然眼下喷水池由一个饱经风雨的水瓮代替，水瓮很像一个破旧的 装盛残羹剩饭的盂盆；灌木丛不过是几株生死未卜的落叶松幼苗，而花瓶只是插了许多枝条，标志着那里已撒下了花籽。然而，屋里的一切都赏心悦目。从阁楼到地 下室，都令幸福的新娘无可挑剔。确实，门厅太窄了，幸好他们还没有钢琴，因为整架钢琴无法弄进去。餐厅太小，六个人便会挤得转不过身来。厨房的楼梯口似乎 是专门建来存放煤箱的，仆人们连同乱七八糟的瓷器都归属其间。然而，一旦习惯了这些小小的瑕疵，就会感到没有别的屋比它更加完美了。因为屋子的装饰显示出 独特的见地与雅致的情趣，从而别具一番韵味。没有大理石铺面的桌子，没有长长的穿衣镜，小客厅里也没有饰有花边的窗帘，而摆放着简洁的家具、丰富的书籍、 一两幅美丽的画，吊窗台上放着插花，四处散放着漂亮的礼物，它们出自友爱之手而爱意深长。
劳里送的礼物是一尊白色细瓷爱神，约翰将它的托架去掉了，但我想爱神并未因此而损失丝毫美感。极富艺术灵感的艾美为她装饰了素净的棉布窗帘，任何装 饰商都不能比艾美更别出心裁。乔和妈妈将梅格仅有的几个箱子、桶和包裹放进了她的储藏室，也放进去她们美好的祝愿、愉快的话语和幸福的希望。我想不出还有 哪一间储藏室会有这一间丰富多彩。罕娜将所有的盆盆罐罐安排了十几次，做好了生火的一切准备，一俟"布鲁克太太来家"便能点着。我确信，若不是如此，这间 崭新的厨房看上去不可能这样舒适整洁。我还怀疑有没有别的主妇开始新生活时会有如此之多的擦布、夹子和碎布袋，因为，贝思为她准备得足以用到银婚之日来 临。她还发明了三种不同的抹布，专门用来擦拭新娘的瓷器。
他们一起计划着，多么幸福的时光！多么庄严的嫁妆采购！他们犯了些多么可笑的错误！劳里买来些滑稽的便宜货，又引起了怎样的阵阵笑声啊！这位年轻先 生爱开玩笑，尽管就快大学毕业了，仍旧孩子气十足。他最近突发奇想，每周来访时，为年轻的管家妇带来些新奇有用的精巧物品。先是一袋奇异的衣类，接着是一 个绝妙的肉豆蔻粉碎机，可是第一次试用便散了架。还有一个刀具除垢器，却弄脏了所有的刀具；一个除尘器，能打扫干净地毯的毛绒，却留下了污垢；省力的肥 皂，用时洗掉了手上的皮肤；可靠的胶泥，能牢牢粘住上当的买主的手指，却不粘别物；还有各种白铁工艺品，从放零钱的玩具储蓄罐到奇妙的汽锅，那锅产生的蒸 气可洗涤物品，使用过程中却极可能爆炸。
“萨莉可不是穷人的妻子，众多的女仆也正般配她的华宅。梅格和约翰起点低，可是我觉得，小屋里会有和大房子里同样多的幸福。像梅格这样的年青姑娘若 是啥事不干，只是打扮、发号施令、闲聊，那就荒谬之极了。我刚结婚时，总是盼望我的新衣服穿坏或磨破，这样我就有缝缝补补的乐趣了。我烦透了钩编织品，摆 弄手绢。““你为什么不去厨房瞎忙乎呢？萨利说她就是这样以此为乐的，尽管烹饪从不成功，仆人们也总笑她，“梅格说道。
“后来我是那么做的，但不是'瞎忙乎'，而是向罕娜学习该怎么做。我的仆人们没有必要笑话我，当时那不过是游戏。可是，有一度我雇不起仆人的时候， 我不仅有决心，也有能力为我的小姑娘们烧煮有益健康的食物。我自个儿为此感到很受用。梅格，亲爱的，你是从另一头开始的。但是你现在学得的教训渐渐地会派 上用常当约翰富裕了一些时，对家庭主妇来说，不管多么显赫荣耀，都应知道活儿该怎样去做，如果她希望被人尽心尽意地侍候的话。““是的，妈妈，我相信， “梅格说，她毕恭毕敬地听着这个小小的教诲。就管家这引人入胜的话题来说，大部分妇女都会滔滔不绝地发表意见的。“你知道吗？这些小房间我最喜欢的是这一 间，“一会儿后，她们上了楼，梅格看着她装满亚麻织品的衣橱，接着说道。
贝思正在那儿，她将雪白的织品齐整地摆放在橱架上，为这一大批漂亮的织品得意非凡。梅格说话时三个人都笑了起来，因为那亚麻织品是个笑话。要知道， 马奇婶婶曾说过，假如梅格嫁给"那个布鲁克"，将得不到她的一文钱。可是，当时间平息了她的怒气，当她为她发的誓后悔时，老太太左右为难了。她从不食言， 便绞尽脑汁如何转这个弯子。最后她设计了一个能使她满意的方案。卡罗尔太太，弗洛伦斯的妈妈受命去购买、缝制、设计了一大批装饰屋子和桌子的亚麻织品，并 作为她的礼品送给梅格。卡罗尔太太忠实地做了这一切，但是秘密泄露了出来，全家人大为欣赏，马奇婶婶试图做出全然不觉的样子，坚持说她不给梅格别的礼物， 只给她那串老式的珍珠项链，那是早就应诺要送给第一个新娘的。
一个高个儿、宽肩膀的年青人迈着有力的步子快速走了过来，他理着短发，头戴毡帽，身上的衣服宽宽大大。他没有停步去开那低矮的篱笆门，而是跨了过 来，径直走向马奇太太，一边伸出双手，热诚地说道：“我来了，妈妈！啊，一切都好。“他后面的话回答了老夫人神情里流露出的询问。他漂亮的双眼露出坦率的 目光，迎接这种关切的神情。这样，小小的仪式像往常一样，以母亲的一吻结束。
“好了，特迪，我要和你认真谈谈明天的事，“他们一起踱步离开时，乔开口说道，“你必须保证好好表现，别搞恶作剧，破坏我们的计划。““决不再 犯。““我们该严肃时，别说可笑的事情。““我决不说。你才会那样做呢。““还有，我求你在仪式进行中别看我。你要是看，我肯定要笑的。““你不会看到我 的。你会哭得很厉害，厚厚的泪雾将模糊你的视线。““除非有很深的痛苦，我从不会哭的。““比方人家去上大学，嘿？“劳里笑着插嘴暗示她。
“噢，他小题大做了。他一人抵一打我们这样的懒家伙，你总不会让我眼看着他只为需要一点点帮助而去干活累死吧，是不是？““当然不会。但是，你有十 七件背心，数不清的领带，每次回家都戴一顶新帽子，我看不出这有什么益处。我以为你已经过了讲究浮华服饰的时期。可是，这毛病时不时又在新的地方冒了头。 如今丑陋的打扮倒成了时髦--你把头弄成了矮灌木丛，穿紧身夹克，戴桔色手套，穿厚底方头靴。要是这种难看的打扮不费钱，我不说什么，可它花钱和别的装束 一样多，而且我一点也不满意。“对于这一攻击，劳里仰头大笑，结果毡帽掉到了地上，乔从帽上踩了过去。这个侮辱只为他提供了阐述粗糙服装优点的机会。他折 起那顶受了虐待的帽子，将它塞进了口袋。
“别惊慌，我不是那种可人儿，没有人要我，那也是神的恩赐，因为一家之中总要有个老处女的。““你不会给任何人机会的，“劳里说着瞥了她一眼，晒黑 的脸庞上泛起了一点红晕，“你不会将你性格里温柔的一面示人的。假如谁偶然窥视到这一面，不由自主地表示他喜欢你，你会像戈米基夫人对她的情人所做的那样 --对他泼冷水--变得满身长刺，没有人敢碰你、看你。““我不喜欢那种事。我太忙了，无暇去考虑那些废话。我觉得以那种方式解散家庭太可怕了。好了，别 再说这事了。梅格的婚礼使我们大家的脑子都错乱了。我们没谈别的，光谈情人以及这类荒唐事儿。我不愿由此发脾气，因此我们换个话题吧。“乔看上去严阵以 待，稍稍一激便会大泼冷水。
In order that we may start afresh and go to Meg's weddingwith free minds, it will be well to begin with a little gossipabout the Marches. And here let me premise that if any of theelders think there is too much `lovering' in the story, as I fearthey may (I'm not afraid the young folks will make that objection),I can only say with Mrs. March, "What can you expect when I havefour gay girls in the house, and a dashing young neighbor over theway?"
The three years that have passed have brought but few changesto the quiet family. The war is over, and Mr. March safely athome, busy with his books and the small parish which found in hima minister by nature as by grace, a quiet, studious man, rich inthe wisdom that is better than learning, the charity which callsall mankind `brother', the piety that blossoms into character,making it august and lovely.
These attributes, in spite of poverty and the strict integritywhich shut him out from the more worldly successes, attracted tohim many admirable persons, as naturally as sweet herbs draw bees,and as naturally he gave them the honey into which fifty years ofhard experience had distilled no bitter drop. Earnest young menfound the gray-headed scholar as young at heart as they, thoughtfulor troubled women instinctively brought their doubts to him, sureof finding the gentlest sympathy, the wisest counsel. Sinners toldtheir sins to the pure-hearted old man and were both rebuked andsaved. Gifted men found a companion in him. Ambitious men caughtglimpses of nobler ambitions than their own, and even worldlingsconfessed that his beliefs were beautiful and true, although `theywouldn't pay'.
To outsiders the five energetic women seemed to rule the house,and so they did in many things, but the quiet scholar, sitting amonghis books, was still the head of the family, the household conscience,anchor, and comforter, for to him the busy, anxious women alwaysturned in troublous times, finding him, in the truest sense of thosesacred words, husband and father.
The girls gave their hearts into their mother's keeping, theirsouls into their father's, and to both parents, who lived and laboredso faithfully for them, they gave a love that grew with their growthand bound them tenderly together by the sweetest tie which blesseslife and outlives death.
Mrs. March is as brisk and cheery, though rather grayer, thanwhen we saw her last, and just now so absorbed in Meg's affairs thatthe hospitals and homes still full of wounded `boys' and soldiers'widows, decidedly miss the motherly missionary's visits.
John Brooke did his duty manfully for a year, got wounded, wassent home, and not allowed to return. He received no stars or bars,but he deserved them, for he cheerfully risked all he had, and lifeand love are very precious when both are in full bloom. Perfectlyresigned to his discharge, he devoted himself to getting well,preparing for business, and earning a home for Meg. With the goodsense and sturdy independence that characterized him, he refusedMr. Laurence's more generous offers, and accepted the place ofbookkeeper, feeling better satisfied to begin with an honestly earnedsalary than by running any risks with borrowed money.
Meg had spent the time in working as well as waiting, growingwomanly in character, wise in housewifely arts, and prettier thanever, for love is a great beautifier. She had her girlish ambitionsand hopes, and felt some disappointment at the humble way in whichthe new life must begin. Ned Moffat had just married Sallie Gardiner,and Meg couldn't help contrasting their fine house and carriage,many gifts, and splendid outfit with her own, and secretly wishingshe could have the same. But somehow envy and discontent soonvanished when she thought of all the patient love and labor John hadput into the little home awaiting her, and when they sat together inthe twilight, talking over their small plans, the future always grewso beautiful and bright that she forgot Sallie's splendor and feltherself the richest, happiest girl in Christendom.
Jo never went back to Aunt March, for the old lady took sucha fancy to AMy that she bribed her with the offer of drawing lessonsfrom one of the best teachers going, and for the sake of thisadvantage, Amy would have served a far harder mistress. So she gave hermornings to duty, her afternoons to pleasure, and prospered finely.Jo meantime devoted herself to literature and Beth, who remaineddelicate long after the fever was a thing of the past. Not aninvalid exactly, but never again the rosy, healthy creature she hadbeen, yet always hopeful, happy, and serene, and busy with the quietduties she loved, everyone's friend, and an angel in the house, longbefore those who loved her most had learned to know it.
As long as THE SPREAD EAGLE paid her a dollar a column for her`rubbish', as she called it, Jo felt herself a woman of means, andspun her little romances diligently. But great plans fermented inher busy brain and ambitious mind, and the old tin kitchen in thegarret held a slowly increasing pile of blotted manuscript, whichwas one day to place the name of March upon the roll of fame.
Laurie, having dutifully gone to college to please his grandfather,was now getting through it in the easiest possible mannerto please himself. A universal favorite, thanks to money, manners,much talent, and the kindest heart that ever got its owner intoscrapes by trying to get other people out of them, he stood ingreat danger of being spoiled, and probably would have been, likemany another promising boy, if he had not possessed a talismanagainst evil in the memory of the kind old man who was bound up inhis success, the motherly friend who watched over him as if he wereher son, and last, but not least by any means, the knowledge thatfour innocent girls loved, admired, and believed in him with alltheir hearts.
Being only `a glorious human boy', of course he frolicked andflirted, grew dandified, aquatic, sentimental, or gymnastic, ascollege fashions ordained, hazed and was hazed, talked slang, andmore than once came perilously near suspension and expulsion. Butas high spirits and the love of fun were the causes of these pranks,he always managed to save himself by frank confession, honorableatonement, or the irresistible power of persuasion which he possessedin perfection. In fact, he rather prided himself on his narrowescapes, and liked to thrill the girls with graphic accounts of histriumphs over wrathful tutors, dignified professors, and vanquishedenemies. The `men of my class', were heroes in the eyes of the girls,who never wearied of the exploits of `our fellows', and were frequentlyallowed to bask in the smiles of these great creatures, when Lauriebrought them home with him.
Amy especially enjoyed this high honor, and became quite a belleamong them, for her ladyship early felt and learned to use the giftof fascination with which she was endowed. Meg was too much absorbedin her private and particular John to care for any other lords ofcreation, and Beth too shy to do more than peep at them and wonderhow Amy dared to order them about so, but Jo felt quite in her ownelement, and found it very difficult to refrain from imitating thegentlemanly attitudes, phrases, and feats, which seemed more naturalto her than the decorums prescribed for young ladies. They all likedJo immensely, but never fell in love with her, though very few escapedwithout paying the tribute of a sentimental sigh or two at Amy's shrine.And speaking of sentiment brings us very naturally to the `Dovecote'.
That was the name of the little brown house Mr. Brooke had preparedfor Meg's first home. Laurie had christened it, saying it washighly appropriate to the gentle lovers who `went on together like apair of turtledoves, with first a bill and then a coo'. It was atiny house, with a little garden behind and a lawn about as big as apocket handkerchief in the front. Here Meg meant to have a fountain,shrubbery, and a profusion of lovely flowers, though just at presentthe fountain was represented by a weather-beaten urn, very like adilapidated slopbowl, the shrubbery consisted of several young larches,undecided whether to live or die, and the profusion of flowers wasmerely hinted by regiments of sticks to show where seeds were planted.But inside, it was altogether charming, and the happy bride saw nofault from garret to cellar. To be sure, the hall was so narrow itwas fortunate that they had no piano, for one never could have beengot in whole, the dining room was so small that six people were atight fit, and the kitchen stairs seemed built for the expresspurpose of precipitating both servants and china pell-mell into thecoalbin. But once get used to these slight blemishes and nothingcould be more complete, for good sense and good taste had presidedover the furnishing, and the result was highly satisfactory. Therewere no marble-topped tables, long mirrors, or lace curtains in thelittle parlor, but simple furniture, plenty of books, a fine pictureor two, a stand of flowers in the bay window, and, scattered allabout, the pretty gifts which came from friendly hands and were thefairer for the loving messages they brought.
I don't think the Parian Psyche Laurie gave lost any of itsbeauty because John put up the bracket it stood upon, that anyupholsterer could have draped the plain muslin curtains moregracefully than Amy's artistic hand, or that any store-room was everbetter provided with good wishes, merry words, and happy hopesthan that in which Jo and her mother put away Meg's few boxes,barrels, and bundles, and I am morally certain that the spandy newkitchen never could have looked so cozy and neat if Hannah had notarranged every pot and pan a dozen times over, and laid the fireall ready for lighting the minute `Mis. Brooke came home'. I alsodoubt if any young matron ever began life with so rich a supply ofdusters, holders, and piece bags, for Beth made enough to last tillthe silver wedding came round, and invented three different kindsof dishcloths for the express service of the bridal china.
People who hire all these things done for them never knowwhat they lose, for the homeliest tasks get beautified if lovinghands do them, and Meg found so many proofs of this that everythingin her small nest, from the kitchen roller to the silver vase onher parlor table, was eloquent of home love and tender forethought.
What happy times they had planning together, what solemnshopping excursions, what funny mistakes they made, and whatshouts of laughter arose over Laurie's ridiculous bargains. Inhis love of jokes, this young gentleman, though nearly throughcollege, was a much of a boy as ever. His last whim had been tobring with him on his weekly visits some new, useful, and ingeniousarticle for the young housekeeper. Now a bag of remarkableclothespins, next, a wonderful nutmeg grater which fell to pieces at thefirst trial, a knife cleaner that spoiled all the knives, or asweeper that picked the nap neatly off the carpet and left the dirt,labor-saving soap that took the skin off one's hands, infalliblecements which stuck firmly to nothing but the fingers of thedeluded buyer, and every kind of tinware, from a toy savings bank forodd pennies, to a wonderful boiler which would wash articles in itsown steam with every prospect of exploding in the process.
In vain Meg begged him to stop. John laughed at him, and Jo calledhim `Mr. Toodles'. He was possessed with a mania for patronizingYankee ingenuity, and seeing his friends fitly furnished forth.So each week beheld some fresh absurdity.
Everything was done at last, even to Amy's arranging differentcolored soaps to match the different colored rooms, and Beth'ssetting the table for the first meal.
"Are you satisfied? Does it seem like home, and do you feelas if you should be happy here?" asked Mrs. March, as she and herdaughter went through the new kingdom arm in arm, for just thenthey seemed to cling together more tenderly than ever.
"Yes, Mother, perfectly satisfied, thanks to you all, and sohappy that I can't talk about it," with a look that was far betterthan words.
"If she only had a servant or two it would be all right," said Amy,coming out of the parlor, where she had been trying to decide whetherthe bronze Mercury looked best on the whatnot or the mantlepiece.
"Mother and I have talked that over, and I have made up mymind to try her way first. There will be so little to do that withLotty to run my errands and help me here and there, I shall onlyhave enough work to keep me from getting lazy or homesick," answeredMeg tranquilly.
"Sallie Moffat has four," began Amy.
"If Meg had four, the house wouldn't hold them, and master andmissis would have to camp in the garden," broke in Jo, who, envelopedin a big blue pinafore, was giving the last polish to the door handles.
"Sallie isn't a poor man's wife, and many maids are in keepingwith her fine establishment. Meg and John begin humbly, but I havea feeling that there will be quite as much happiness in the littlehouse as in the big one. It's a great mistake for young girls likeMeg to leave themselves nothing to do but dress, give orders, andgossip. When I was first married, I used to long for my new clothesto wear out or get torn, so that i might have the pleasure of mendingthem, for I got heartily sick of doing fancywork and tending mypocket handkerchief."
"Why didn't you go into the kitchen and make messes, as Salliesays she does to amuse herself, though they never turn out well andthe servants laugh at her," said Meg.
"I did after a while, not to `mess' but to learn of Hannah howthings should be done, that my servants need not laugh at me. Itwas play then, but there came a time when I was truly grateful thatI not only possessed the will but the power to cook wholesome foodfor my little girls, and help myself when I could no longer affordto hire help. You begin at the other end, Meg, dear, but the lessonsyou learn now will be of use to you by-and-by when John is a richerman, for the mistress of a house, however splendid, should know howwork ought to be done, if she wishes to be well and honestly served."
"Yes, Mother, I'm sure of that," said Meg, listening respectfullyto the little lecture, for the best of women will hold forthupon the all absorbing subject of house keeping. "Do you know Ilike this room most of all in my baby house," added Meg, a minuteafter, as they went upstairs and she looked into her well-storedlinen closet.
Beth was there, laying the snowy piles smoothly on the shelvesand exulting over the goodly array. All three laughed as Meg spoke,for that linen closet was a joke. You see, having said that if Megmarried `that Brooke' she shouldn't have a cent of her money, AuntMarch was rather in a quandary when time had appeased her wrath andmade her repent her vow. She never broke her word, and was muchexercised in her mind how to get round it, and at last devised aplan whereby she could satisfy herself. Mrs. Carrol, Florence'smamma, was ordered to buy, have made, and marked a generous supplyof house and table linen, and send it as her present, all of whichwas faithfully done, but the secret leaked out, and was greatlyenjoyed by the family, for Aunt March tried to look utterlyunconscious, and insisted that she could give nothing but theold-fashioned pearls long promised to the first bride.
"That's a housewifely taste which I am glad to see. I had ayoung friend who set up housekeeping with six sheets, but she hadfinger bowls for company and that satisfied her," said Mrs. March,patting the damask tablecloths, with a truly feminine appreciationof their fineness.
"I haven't a single finger bowl, but this is a setout that willlast me all my days, Hannah says." And Meg looked quite contented,as well she might.
A tall, broad-shouldered young fellow, with a cropped head, afelt basin of a hat, and a flyaway coat, came tramping down theroad at a great pace, walked over the low fence without stopping toopen the gate, straight up to Mrs. March, with both hands out anda hearty . ..
"Here I am, Mother! Yes, it's all right."
The last words were in answer to the look the elder lady gavehim, a kindly questioning look which the handsome eyes met sofrankly that the little ceremony closed, as usual, with a motherlykiss.
"For Mrs. John Brooke, with the maker's congratulations andcompliments. Bless you, Beth! What a refreshing spectacle youare, Jo. Amy, you are getting altogether too handsome for asingle lady."
As Laurie spoke, he delivered a brown paper parcel to Meg,pilled Beth's hair ribbon, stared at Jo's bib pinafore, and fellinto an attitude of mock rapture before Amy, then shook hands allround, and everyone began to talk.
"Where is John?" asked Meg anxiously.
"Stopped to get the license for tomorrow, ma'am."
"Which side won the last match, Teddy?" inquired Jo, who persistedin feeling an interest in manly sports despite her nineteen years.
"Ours, of course. Wish you'd been there to see."
"How is the lovely Miss Randal?" asked Amy with a significant smile.
"More cruel than ever. Don't you see how I'm pining away?"And Laurie gave his broad chest a sounding slap and heaved amelodramatic sigh.
"What's the last joke? Undo the bundle and see, Meg," saidBeth, eying the knobby parcel with curiosity.
"It's a useful thing to have in the house in case of fireor thieves," observed Laurie, as a watchman's rattle appeared,amid the laughter of the girls.
"Any time when John is away and you get frightened, Mrs.Meg, just swing that out of the front window, and it will rousethe neighborhood in a jiffy. Nice thing, isn't it?" And Lauriegave them a sample of its powers that made them cover up their ears.
"There's gratitude for you! And speaking of gratitude remindsme to mention that you may thank Hannah for saving your wedding cakefrom destruction. I saw it going into your house as I came by, andif she hadn't defended it manfully I'd have had a pick at it, for itlooked like a remarkably plummy one."
"I wonder if you will ever grow up, Laurie," said Meg in amatronly tone.
"I'm doing my best, ma'am, but can't get much higher, I'm afraid,as six feet is about all men can do in these degenerate days,"responded the young gentleman, whose head was about level with thelittle chandelier.
"I suppose it would be profanation to eat anything in thisspick-and-span bower, so as I'm tremendously hungry,I propose an adjournment," he added presently.
"Mother and I are going to wait for John. There are some lastthings to settle," said Meg, bustling away.
"Beth and I are going over to Kitty Bryant's to get more flowersfor tomorrow," added Amy, tying a picturesque hat over her picturesquecurls, and enjoying the effect as much as anybody.
"Come, Jo, don't desert a fellow. I'm in such a state of exhaustionI can't get home without help. Don't take off your apron,whatever you do, it's peculiarly becoming," said Laurie, as Jobestowed his especial aversion in her capacious pocket and offeredher arm to support his feeble steps.
"Now, Teddy, I want to talk seriously to you about tomorrow,"began Jo, as they strolled away together. "You must promise tobehave well, and not cut up any pranks, and spoil our plans."
"Not a prank."
"And don't say funny things when we ought to be sober."
"I never do. You are the one for that."
"And I implore you not to look at me during the ceremony. Ishall certainly laugh if you do."
"You won't see me, you'll be crying so hard that the thick foground you will obscure the prospect."
"I never cry unless for some great affliction."
"Such as fellows going to college, hey?" cut in Laurie, withsuggestive laugh.
"Don't be a peacock. I only moaned a trifle to keep the girlscompany."
"Exactly. I say, Jo, how is Grandpa this week? Pretty amiable?"
"Very. Why, have you got into a scrape and want to know howhe'll take it?" asked Jo rather sharply.
"Now, Jo, do you think I'd look your mother in the face and say`All right', if it wasn't?" And Laurie stopped short, with an injuredair.
"No, I don't."
"Then don't go and be suspicious. I only want some money," saidLaurie, walking on again, appeased by her hearty tone.
"You spend a great deal, Teddy."
"Bless you, I don't spend it, it spends itself somehow, and isgone before I know it."
"You are so generous and kind-hearted that you let people borrow,and can't say `No' to anyone. We heard about Henshaw and all you didfor him. If you always spent money in that way, no one would blameyou," said Jo warmly.
"Oh, he made a mountain out of a molehill. You wouldn't have melet that fine fellow work himself to death just for want of a littlehelp, when he is worth a dozen of us lazy chaps, would you?"
"Of course not, but I don't see the use of your having seventeenwaistcoats, endless neckties, and a new hat every time you come home.I thought you'd got over the dandy period, but every now and then itbreaks out in a new spot. Just now it's the fashion to be hideous,to make your head look like a scrubbing brush, wear a strait jacket,orange gloves, and clumping square-toed boots. If it was cheapugliness, I'd say nothing, but it costs as much as the other, and Idon't get any satisfaction out of it."
Laurie threw back his head, and laughed so heartily at thisattack, that the felt hat fell off, and Jo walked on it, whichinsult only afforded him an opportunity for expatiating on theadvantages of a rough-and-ready costume, as he folded up themaltreated hat, and stuffed it into his pocket.
"Don't lecture any more, there's a good soul! I have enoughall through the week, and like to enjoy myself when I come home.I'll get myself up regardless of expense tomorrow and be asatisfaction to my friends."
"I'll leave you in peace if you'll only let your hair grow.I'm not aristocratic, but I do object to being seen with a personwho looks like a young prize fighter," observed Jo severely.
"This unassuming style promotes study, that's why we adopt it,"returned Laurie, who certainly could not be accused of vanity, havingvoluntarily sacrificed a handsome curly crop to the demand forquarterinch-long stubble.
"By the way, Jo, I think that little Parker is really gettingdesperate about Amy. He talks of her constantly, writes poetry, andmoons about in a most suspicious manner. He'd better nip his littlepassion in the bud, hadn't he?" added Laurie, in a confidential,elder brotherly tone, after a minute's silence.
"Of course he had. We don't want any more marrying in thisfamily for years to come. Mercy on us, what are the childrenthinking of?" And Jo looked as much scandalized as if Amy and littleParker were not yet in their teens.
"It's a fast age, and I don't know what we are coming to, ma'am.You are a mere infant, but you'll go next, Jo, and we'll be leftlamenting," said Laurie, shaking his head over the degeneracy of thetimes.
"Don't be alarmed. I'm not one of the agreeable sort. Nobodywill want me, and it's a mercy, for there should always be one oldmaid in a family."
"You won't give anyone a chance," said Laurie, with a sidelongglance and a little more color than before in his sunburned face."You won't show the soft side of your character, and if a fellowgets a peep at it by accident and can't help showing that he likesit, you treat him as Mrs. Gummidge did her sweetheart, throw coldwater over him, and get so thorny no one dares touch or look at you."
"I don't like that sort of thing. I'm too busy to be worriedwith nonsense, and I think it's dreadful to break up families so.Now don't say any more about it. Meg's wedding has turned all ourheads, and we talk of nothing but lovers and such absurdities. Idon't wish to get cross, so let's change the subject." And Jolooked quite ready to fling cold water on the slightest provocation.
Whatever his feelings might have been, Laurie found a vent forthem in a long low whistle and the fearful prediction as they partedat the gate, "Mark my words, Jo, you'll go next."