“在这里！“上面一个嘶哑的声音应道。梅格跑上去，只见自己的妹妹身上裹着一条羊毛围巾，坐在靠着向阳窗户的一张旧三脚沙发上，一边吃苹果一边抹着 眼泪读《莱德克力夫的继承人》。这里是乔最钟爱的避护所；她喜欢带上五六个苹果和一本好书在此逍遥，享受这里的宁静以及和爱鼠作伴的滋味。爱鼠叫做扒扒， 住在近处，对她全无顾忌。看到梅格走来，扒扒飞窜入洞。乔抹掉脸颊上的泪珠，看有什么事情。
“'加德纳夫人诚邀马奇小姐和约瑟芬小姐参加新年除夕的小舞会。'妈咪也同意我们参加，只是我们穿什么好呢？““问这个有什么意思？你知道我们除了 穿府绸衣裳外，别无选择，“乔嘴里塞得满满的，答道。“如果我有一件丝绸衣裳就好了！“梅格叹息道，“妈妈说我到十八岁时或许会有，但还要等上两年，简直 是遥遥无期。““我敢说我们的府绸衣裳看上去就像丝绸的一样，我们穿上也挺漂亮的。你的就跟新的一样，我倒忘了我那件给烧坏了，而且还裂了个口子。这可该 怎么办呢？那块焦痕很明显，而我又拿不出其他衣服来。““你必须老老实实地坐着不动，不要把背部给人看到；前面是不成问题的。我要用一条新丝带扎头发，妈 妈会把她的小珍珠发夹借给我，我的新鞋子很漂亮，手套虽然没有我希望的那么漂亮，但也算可以出出场面。““我那双被柠檬汁糟蹋了，我又拿不出新的，到时候 就不戴了，“乔说。她向来不大注重打扮。
“你可以戴我的，可以！只是别把它弄脏了，而且一定要言行检点。别把手放在身后，不要瞪着眼看人，不要说'我的天哪！'好吗？““别担心。我会尽量 板着面孔，不去闯祸，如果我能做到的话。你现在去给人家回个条吧，让我把这个精彩故事看完。“梅格于是去写她的"万分感谢地接受"等话，把衣裳再过了一次 目，又愉快地唱着歌儿把网眼花边镶好。这边乔读完故事，吃掉四个苹果，又和扒扒嬉戏了一番。
除夕，客厅里显得特别的静，两个姐姐在专心致志地做异常重要的事情--"为晚会做准备"，两个妹妹则侍候她们化妆。虽然化妆并不复杂，姐妹们还是跑 上跑下，又说又笑，有一阵子屋子里弥漫着一股强烈的烧焦头发的异味。梅格想弄几缕卷曲的刘海，乔便将的头发用纸片包起来，再用一把烧热的火钳夹祝"头发会 这样冒烟吗？“贝思倚在床上问。
“玩得开开心心，宝贝！“马奇太太对优雅地走下人行道的两姐妹说，“晚饭不要吃得太多，十一点钟就回家，我让罕娜来接你们。“大门在她们身后砰地关 上了。这时窗子里又传来了喊声--“姑娘们，姑娘们！都带上漂亮的小手帕了吗？““带上了，漂亮极啦，梅格的还洒上了古龙香水，“乔大声答道，一头走着又 笑了一声，“我相信就算我们遇上地震狼狈逃窜，妈妈也要这样问的。““这是妈妈的一种高贵品味，而且相当合乎体统，因为真正的淑女可以根据洁净的靴子、手 套和手帕看出来，“梅格回答。她本人就颇具这些"高贵品味儿"。
“不行，眨眼并非淑女所为。如果你做错了事我就抬抬眼眉，如果做对了就点点头。现在挺直腰，迈小步。如果把你介绍给别人时，不要握手：那不合规矩。 “这些规矩你都是怎样学来的？我就是老学不会。听，音乐多轻快！“姐妹两人略带羞怯地走过去。虽然这只是个非正式的小舞会，对于她们来说却是件盛事。加德 纳夫人是位神态庄重的老太太，有六个女儿。她和霭可亲地接待了她们，并把她们交给大女儿莎莉。梅格和莎莉相熟，很快便不再拘束，而乔呢，对女孩子和女孩子 的闲言碎语一向不大着意，只得站在那里，小心翼翼地背靠着墙，觉得自己就像一匹关在花园里的小野马，很不得要领。五六个快活的小伙子在房间的另一头大谈溜 冰，她心痒难禁，恨不得也走过去参与，因为溜冰是她生活中的一大乐趣。她把心头愿望向梅格流露，但梅格的眉毛抬得老高，令她不敢轻举妄动。没有人过来跟他 说话；身边的一群人也渐走渐少，最后只剩下她孤零零一个。因为怕露出烧坏了的衣幅，她不敢四处走动去寻找乐趣，只能可怜巴巴地站在那里盯着别人看。这时舞 曲响起，梅格马上被请进了舞池。她步态轻快，笑脸盈盈，没有人会想象得到她双脚正被那双鞋子折磨得生疼。乔看到一个大个子红头发的年轻人向她走来，担心会 请她跳舞，便赶快溜进一间挂着帘幕的休息室，准备独自一人偷偷窥视，悄悄欣赏。谁料到另一个害羞的人已先看中了这个庇身之处：当帘幕在身后落下时，乔发现 自己正与"劳伦斯家的男孩"面对着面。
“一点也不会。我进来是因为这里有很多人我都不认识，你知道一开始总有点陌生感。““我也一样。请不要走开，除非你真的想这样。“男孩又坐下来，低 头望着自己的浅口无带皮鞋。乔尽量用礼貌轻松的口吻说：“我想我曾幸会过阁下。阁下就住在我们附近吧？““隔壁。“他抬起头笑出声来，因为他想起了把猫送 回她家时两人一起谈论板球的情景。相比之下，乔这副一本正经的神态显得十分逗趣。
“有时也跳。我在外国生活了好些年，在这里交友尚少，还不大熟悉你们的生活方式。““外国！“乔叫道，“呵，给我讲讲吧！我最爱听人家谈自己的旅游 见闻。“劳里似乎不知道该从哪里说起，但见乔问得热切，便也打开了话匣子，谈他在韦威的学校生活，告诉她那边的男孩从来不戴帽子，而且他们在湖上都有一队 小船，休假时大家跟老师们一起走过瑞士等等。
“说得好极了！让我想想--你是说：'那位穿着漂亮鞋子的年轻女士是谁'，可对？““Ｏｕｉ，ｍａｄｅｍｏｉｓｅｌｌｅ。““是我姐姐玛格丽特，你 早就知道的！你说她漂亮吗？““漂亮。她使我想起德国姑娘，她看上去俏丽娴雅，舞姿也很优美。“听到一个男孩子这样夸赞自己的姐姐，乔高兴得脸上放光，忙 把这些话记在心中，留待回家转告梅格。他们悄悄看着舞池，一边指点一边交谈，彼此都觉得似乎相知已久。劳里很快便不再害羞，乔的男儿气使他感到十分轻松愉 快，乔也倍感快乐，因为她忘掉了自己的衣裳，而且现在没有人对她抬眼眉了。她对“劳伦斯家的男孩"越发感到喜爱，不禁再认真地棒打量了几眼，准备回家把他 描述给姐妹们，因为她们没有兄弟，也没有什么表兄弟，对男孩子几乎一无所知。
“如果我可以念大学就好了！而你似乎不大喜欢呢。““我讨厌读文学，一味只是灌输和玩乐。我也不喜欢这个国家的生活方式。““你喜欢什么呢？““住 在意大利，按自己的方式做事。“乔非常想问问他自己的方式是什么，但他锁起双眉，样子显得极为严肃，乔便一边用脚踏着节拍，一边换了个话题：“这支波尔卡 舞曲棒极了！你为什么不去跳？““如果你也一起来的话，“他说道，并颇有修养地轻轻一躬身子。
“是这样，我有个坏习惯，喜欢站在炉火前烘衣服，一次便把这件衣服烧坏了，虽经精心缝补，还是可以看出来。梅格要我别乱动，这样就不会让人看到。你 要笑就尽管笑吧。我知道这很好笑。“但劳里没有笑，他低头沉思了一会，带着令乔诧异的神情轻声说：“不要紧，我告诉你一个办法：那边有一个长长的走廊，我 们可以尽兴起舞，没有人会看见我们。请来吧。“乔谢过他，高兴地走过去。看到舞伴戴着精致的乳白色手套，她恨不得自己也有两只干净手套。走廊空无一人，他 们在那里尽兴地跳了一曲波尔卡舞。劳里跳得很好，他教乔跳德国舞步，这种舞步活泼轻快，乔十分喜欢。音乐停下后，他们坐在楼梯上喘口气，劳里跟乔谈着海德 堡的学生庆祝会，梅格过来找妹妹。她招招手，乔不大情愿地跟着她走进一个侧间，却看到她坐在沙发上，手托着脚，脸色苍白。
“叫一辆马车要花不少钱，再说根本也叫不到，因为大多数人都是坐自己的马车来的。这里离马厩有好长一段路，也找不着人去叫。““我去。““千万别 去！已经过九点了，外面黑黢黢一片。我不能呆在这里，因为屋里满是人。莎莉有几个女孩子陪着。我在这里等罕娜来，到时候再尽我所能吧。““我去叫劳里；他 会去的，“乔说。想到这个主意，她松了一口气。
“求求你，不要去！不要让人知道。把我的橡胶套鞋给我，把这对鞋子放到我们带来的包袱里。我不能再跳了。晚饭一吃完就看罕娜来了没有，她一到马上告 诉我。““他们现在出去吃饭了。我陪着你；我宁愿这样。““不，亲爱的，快到那边给我弄点咖啡。我累得要命，简直不能动了！“梅格说完斜靠在沙发上，把橡 胶套鞋藏得恰到好处，乔便跌跌撞撞地朝饭厅跑去。她闯入一个地方，原来是放瓷器的小房间，又推开一扇房门，却发现加德纳先生在那里独自小憩，最后才找到了 饭厅。她冲到桌边好不容易倒好咖啡，匆忙中又把它弄溅了，把衣服的前幅弄得跟后幅一样糟糕。
反正是顺路，你知道。再者，他们说还下着雨呢。“事情就这样定下来了；乔把梅格的灾难告诉他，感激不尽地接受了他的好意，又跑上去把其他人带下来。 罕娜跟猫一样痛恨下雨，所以顺顺当当上了车。她们乘着豪华的封闭式四轮马车驶回家，觉得极为高雅，内心十分得意。劳里坐到车夫座位上，腾出位置让梅格把脚 架起来，姐妹俩毫无顾忌地谈论刚才的晚会。
“我看到你跟我躲开的那个红头发小伙子跳舞，他人好吗？““噢，非常好！他的头发是红褐色的，不是红色，他非常有礼貌，我跟他跳了一个漂亮的瑞多瓦 呢。““他学跳新舞步时像个痉挛的草蜢。我和劳里都忍不住笑起来，你听到了吗？“没有，但这样非常无礼。你们一晚上藏在那里头干什么？“乔把自己的经过告 诉她，讲完时恰好到家了。她们谢过劳里，又道了晚安，悄悄溜进门去，不想惊动任何人。但随着门吱嘎一声，两个戴着睡帽的小脑袋突然冒出来，两个困乏但热切 的声音喊道--“讲讲舞会！讲讲舞会！“尽管梅格认为这样"极无规矩"，乔还是为两个妹妹带了几块夹心糖；她们听了晚会最刺激的情节后，很快便安静下来。
"Jo! Jo! Where are you?" cried Meg at the foot of the garret stairs.
"Here!" answered a husky voice from above, and, running up,Meg found her sister eating apples and crying over the Heir ofRedclyffe, wrapped up in a comforter on an old three-legged sofaby the sunny window. This was Jo's favorite refuge, and here sheloved to retire with half a dozen russets and a nice book, to enjoythe quiet and the society of a pet rat who lived near by and didn'tmind her a particle. As Meg appeared, Scrabble whisked into hishole. Jo shook the tears off her cheeks and waited to hear the news.
"Such fun! Only see! A regular note of invitation from Mrs.Gardiner for tomorrow night!" cried Meg, waving the precious paperand then proceeding to read it with girlish delight.
"`Mrs. Gardiner would be happy to see Miss March and Miss Josephineat a little dance on New Year's Eve.' Marmee is willing we should go,now what shall we wear?"
"What's the use of asking that, when you know we shall wearour poplins, because we haven't got anything else?" answered Jowith her mouth full.
"If I only had a silk!" sighed Meg. "Mother says I may whenI'm eighteen perhaps, but two years is an everlasting time to wait."
"I'm sure our pops look like silk, and they are nice enough forus. Yours is as good as new, but I forgot the burn and the tear inmine. Whatever shall I do? The burn shows badly, and I can't takeany out."
"You must sit still all you can and keep your back out of sight.The front is all right. I shall have a new ribbon for my hair, andMarmee will lend me her little pearl pin, and my new slippers arelovely, and my gloves will do, though they aren't as nice as I'd like."
"Mine are spoiled with lemonade, and I can't get any new ones,so I shall have to go without," said Jo, who never troubled herselfmuch about dress.
"You must have gloves, or I won't go," cried Meg decidedly."Gloves are more important than anything else. You can't dancewithout them, and if you don't I should be so mortified.""Then I'll stay still. I don't care much for company dancing.It's no fun to go sailing round. I like to fly about and cut capers."
"You can't ask Mother for new ones, they are so expensive, andyou are so careless. She said when you spoiled the others that sheshouldn't get you any more this winter. Can't you make them do?"
"I can hold them crumpled up in my hand, so no one will knowhow stained they are. That's all I can do. No! I'll tell you howwe can manage, each wear one good one and carry a bad one. Don'tyou see?"
"Your hands are bigger than mine, and you will stretch my glovedreadfully," began Meg, whose gloves were a tender point with her.
"Then I'll go without. I don't care what people say!" cried Jo,taking up her book.
"You may have it, you may! Only don't stain it, and do behavenicely. Don't put your hands behind you, or stare, or say `ChristopherColumbus!' will you?"
"Don't worry about me. I'll be as prim ad I can and not getinto any scrapes, if I can help it. Now go and answer your note,and let me finish this splendid story."
So Meg went away to `accept with thanks', look over her dress,and sing blithely as she did up her one real lace frill, while Jofinished her story, her four apples, and had a game of romps withScrabble.
On New Year's Eve the parlor was deserted, for the two youngergirls played dressing maids and the two elder were absorbed in theall-important business of `getting ready for the party'. Simpleas the toilets were, there was a great deal of running up and down,laughing and talking, and at one time a strong smell of burned hairpervaded the house. Meg wanted a few curls about her face, and Joundertook to pinch the papered locks with a pair of hot tongs.
"Ought they to smoke like that?" asked Beth from her perchon the bed.
"It's the dampness drying," replied Jo.
"What a queer smell! It's like burned feathers," observed Amy,smoothing her own pretty curls with a superior air.
"There, now I'll take off the papers and you'll see a cloudof little ringlets," said Jo, putting down the tongs.
She did take off the papers, but no cloud of ringlets appeared,for the hair came with the papers, and the horrified hairdresserlaid a row of little scorched bundles on the bureau before her victim.
"Oh, oh, oh! What have you done? I'm spoiled! I can't go! Myhair, oh, my hair!" wailed Meg, looking with despair at the unevenfrizzle on her forehead.
"Just my luck! You shouldn't have asked me to do it. I alwaysspoil everything. I'm so sorry, but the tongs were too hot, and soI've made a mess," groaned poor Jo, regarding the little blackpancakes with tears of regret.
"It isn't spoiled. Just frizzle it, and tie your ribbon sothe ends come on your forehead a bit, and it will look like thelast fashion. I've seen many girls do it so," said Amy consolingly.
"Serves me right for trying to be fine. I wish I'd let my hairalone," cried Meg petulantly.
"So do I, it was so smooth and pretty. But it will soon growout again," said Beth, coming to kiss and comfort the shorn sheep.
After various lesser mishaps, Meg was finished at last, andby the united exertions of the entire family Jo's hair was got upand her dress on. They looked very well in their simple suits,Meg's in silvery drab, with a blue velvet snood, lace frills, andthe pearl pin. Jo in maroon, with a stiff, gentlemanly linencollar, and a white chrysanthemum or two for her only ornament.Each put on one nice light glove, and carried one soiled one, andall pronounced the effect "quite easy and fine". Meg's high-heeledslippers were very tight and hurt her, though she would not own it,and Jo's nineteen hairpins all seemed stuck straight into her head,which was not exactly comfortable, but, dear me, let us be elegantor die.
"Have a good time, dearies!" said Mrs. March, as the sisterswent daintily down the walk. "Don't eat much supper, and comeaway at eleven when I send Hannah for you." As the gate clashedbehind them, a voice cried from a window...
"Girls, girls! Have you you both got nice pocket handkerchiefs?"
"Yes, yes, spandy nice, and Meg has cologne on hers," cried Jo,adding with a laugh as they went on, "I do believe Marmee would askthat if we were all running away from an earthquake.
"It is one of her aristocratic tastes, and quite proper, for areal lady is always known by neat boots, gloves, and handkerchief,"replied Meg, who had a good many little `aristocratic tastes' ofher own.
"Now don't forget to keep the bad breadth out of sight, Jo.Is my sash right? And does my hair look very bad?" said Meg, asshe turned from the glass in Mrs. Gardiner's dressing room aftera prolonged prink.
"I know I shall forget. If you see me doing anything wrong,just remind me by a wink, will you?" returned Jo, giving hercollar a twitch and her head a hasty brush.
"No, winking isn't ladylike. I'll lift my eyebrows if anything is wrong, and nod if you are all right. Now hold yourshoulder straight, and take short steps, and don't shake hands ifyou are introduced to anyone. It isn't the thing."
"How do you learn all the proper ways? I never can. Isn'tthat music gay?"
Down they went, feeling a trifle timid, for they seldom wentto parties, and informal as this little gathering was, it was anevent to them. Mrs. Gardiner, a stately old lady, greeted themkindly and handed them over to the eldest of her six daughters.Meg knew Sallie and was at her ease very soon, but Jo, who didn'tcare much for girls or girlish gossip, stood about, with her backcarefully against the wall, and felt as much out of place as acolt in a flower garden. Half a dozen jovial lads were talkingabout skates in another part of the room, and she longed to goand join them, for skating was one of the joys of her life. Shetelegraphed her wish to Meg, but the eyebrows went up so alarminglythat she dared not stir. No one came to talk to her, and one byone the group dwindled away till she was left alone. She couldnot roam about and amuse herself, for the burned breadth wouldshow, so she stared at people rather forlornly till the dancingbegan. Meg was asked at once, and the tight slippers trippedabout so briskly that none would have guessed the pain theirwearer suffered smilingly. Jo saw a big red headed youthapproaching her corner, and fearing he meant to engage her, sheslipped into a curtained recess, intending to peep and enjoyherself in peace. Unfortunately, another bashful person hadchosen the same refuge, for, as the curtain fell behind her,she found herself face to face with the `Laurence boy'.
"Dear me, I didn't know anyone was here!" stammered Jo,preparing to back out as speedily as she had bounced in.
But the boy laughed and said pleasantly, though he lookeda little startled, "Don't mind me, stay if you like."
"Shan't I disturb you?"
"Not a bit. I only came here because I don't know manypeople and felt rather strange at first, you know."
"So did I. Don't go away, please, unless you'd rather."
The boy sat down again and looked at his pumps, till Josaid, trying to be polite and easy, "I think I've had the pleasureof seeing you before. You live near us, don't you?"
"Next door." And he looked up and laughed outright, for Jo'sprim manner was rather funny when he remembered how they had chattedabout cricket when he brought the cat home.
That put Jo at her ease and she laughed too, as she said, inher heartiest way, "We did have such a good time over your niceChristmas present."
"Grandpa sent it."
"But you put it into his head, didn't you, now?"
"How is your cat, Miss March?" asked the boy, trying to looksober while his black eyes shone with fun.
"Nicely, thank you, Mr. Laurence. But I am not Miss March, I'monly Jo," returned the young lady.
"I'm not Mr. Laurence, I'm only Laurie."
"Laurie Laurence, what an odd name."
"My first name is theodore, but I don't like it, for thefellows called me Dora, so I made the say Laurie instead."
"I hate my name, too, so sentimental! I wish every one wouldsay Jo instead of Josephine. How did you make the boys stop callingyou Dora?"
"I thrashed `em."
"I can't thrash Aunt March, so I suppose I shall have to bearit." And Jo resigned herself with a sigh.
"Don't you like to dance, Miss Jo?" asked Laurie, lookingas if he thought the name suited her.
"I like it well enough if there is plenty of room, and everyoneis lively. In a place like this I'm sure to upset something,tread on people's toes, or do something dreadful, so I keep outof mischief and let Meg sail about. Don't you dance?"
"Sometimes. You see I've been abroad a good many years, andhaven't been into company enough yet to know how you do things here."
"Abroad!." cried Jo. "Oh, tell me about it! I love dearly tohear people describe their travels."
Laurie didn't seem to know where to begin, but Jo's eagerquestions soon set him going, and he told her how he had been atschool in Vevay, where the boys never wore hats and had a fleet ofboats on the lake, and for holiday fun went on walking trips aboutSwitzerland with their teachers.
"Don't I wish I'd been there!" cried Jo. "Did you go to Paris?"
"We spent last winter there."
"Can you talk French?"
"We were not allowed to speak anything else at Vevay."
"Do say some! I can read it, but can't pronounce."
"Quel nom a cetter jeune demoiselle en les pantoulles jolis?"
"How nicely you do it! Let me see...you said, `Who is theyoung lady in the pretty slippers', didn't you?"
"It's my sister Margaret, and you knew it was! Do you thinkshe is pretty?"
"Yes, she makes me think of the German girls, she looks sofresh and quiet, and dances like a lady."
Jo quite glowed with pleasure at this boyish praise of hersister, and stored it up to repeat to Meg. Both peeped andcritisized and chatted till they felt like old acquaintances. Laurie'sbashfulness soon wore off, for Jo's gentlemanly demeanor amused andset him at his ease, and Jo was her merry self again, because herdress was forgotten and nobody lifted their eyebrows at her. Sheliked the `Laurence boy' better than ever and took several goodlooks at him, so that she might describe him to the girls, for theyhad no brothers, very few male cousins, and boys were almost unknowncreatures to them.
"Curly black hair, brown skin, big black eyes, handsome nose,fine teeth, small hands and feet, taller than I am, very polite,for a boy, and altogether jolly. Wonder how old he is?"
It was on the tip of Jo's tongue to ask, but she checkedherself in time and, with unusual tact, tried to find out in around-about way.
"I suppose you are going to college soon? I see you peggingaway at your books, no, I mean studying hard." And Jo blushedat the dreadful `pegging' which had escaped her.
Laurie smiled but didn't seem shocked, and answered with ashrug. "Not for a year or two. I won't go before seventeen,anyway."
"Aren't you but fifteen?" asked Jo, looking at the tall lad,whom she had imagined seventeen already.
"Sixteen, next month."
"How I wish I was going to college! You don't look as ifyou liked it."
"I hate it! Nothing but grinding or skylarking. And I don'tlike the way fellows do either, in this country.""What do you like?"
"To live in Italy, and to enjoy myself in my own way."
Jo wanted very much to ask what his own way was, but hisblack brows looked rather threatening as he knit them, so shechanged the subject by saying, as her foot kept time, "That's asplendid polka! Why don't you go and try it?"
"If you will come too," he answered, with a gallant little bow.
"I can't, for I told meg I wouldn't, because..." There Jostopped, and looked undecided whether to tell or to laugh.
"You won't tell?"
"Well, I have a bad trick of standing before the fire, and soI burn my frocks, and I scorched this one, and though it's nicelymended, it shows, and Meg told me to keep still so no one wouldsee it. You may laugh, if you want to. It is funny, I know."
But Laurie didn't laugh. He only looked dawn a minute, andthe expression of his face puzzled Jo when he said very gently,"Never mind that. I'll tell you how we can manage. There's a longhall out there, and we can dance grandly, and no one will see us.Please come."
Jo thanked him and gladly went, wishing she had two neat gloveswhen she saw the nice, pearl-colored ones her partner wore. Thehall was empty, and they had a grand polka, for Laurie danced well,and taught her the German step, which delighted Jo, being full ofswing and spring. When the music stopped, they sat down on thestairs to get their breath, and Laurie was in the midst of an accountof a students' festival at Heidelberg when Meg appeared in search ofher sister. She beckoned, and Jo reluctantly followed her into aside room, where she found her on a sofa, holding her foot, andlooking pale.
"I've sprained my ankle. That stupid high heel turned andgave me a sad wrench. It aches so, I can hardly stand, and I don'tknow how I'm ever going to get home," she said, rocking to and froin pain.
"I knew you'd hurt your feet with those silly shoes. I'msorry. But I don't see what you can do, except get a carriage, orstay here all night," answered Jo, softly rubbing the poor ankle asshe spoke.
"I can't have a carriage without its costing ever so much. Idare say I can't get one at all, for most people come in their own,and it's a long way to the stable, and no one to send.""I'll go."
"No, indeed! It's past nine, and dark as Egypt. I can't stophere, for the house is full. Sallie has some girls staying with her.I'll rest till Hannah comes, and then do the best I can."
"I'll ask Laurie. He will go," said Jo," looking relieved asthe idea occurred to her.
"Mercy, no! Don't ask or tell anyone. Get me my rubbers, andput these slippers with our things. I can't dance anymore, but assoon as supper is over, watch for Hannah and tell me the minute shecomes."
"They are going out to supper now. I'll stay with you. I'drather."
"No, dear, run along, and bring me some coffee. I'm so tiredI can't stir."
So Meg reclined, with rubbers well hidden, and Jo went blunderingaway to the dining room, which she found after going into achina closet, and opening the door of a room where old Mr. Gardinerwas taking a little private refreshment. Making a dart at thetable, she secured the coffee, which she immediately spilled,thereby making the front of her dress as bad as the back.
"Oh, dear, what a blunderbuss I am!" exclaimed Jo, finishingMeg's glove by scrubbing her gown with it.
"Can I help you?" said a friendly voice. And there was Laurie,with a full cup in one hand and a plate of ice in the other.
"I was trying to get something for Meg, who is very tired, andsomeone shook me, and here I am in a nice state," answered Jo,glancing dismally from the stained skirt to the coffee-colored glove.
"Too bad! I was looking for someone to give this to. May Itake it to your sister?"
"Oh, thank you! I'll show you where she is. I don't offer totake it myself, for I should only get into another scrape if I did."
Jo led the way, and as if used to waiting on ladies, Lauriedrew up a little table, brought a second installment of coffee andice for Jo, and was so obliging that even particular Meg pronouncedhim a `nice boy'. They had a merry time over the bonbons and mottoes,and were in the midst of a quiet game of BUZZ, with two or threeother young people who had strayed in, when Hannah appeared. Megforgot her foot and rose so quickly that she was forced to catchhold of Jo, with an exclamation of pain.
"Hush! Don't say anything," she whispered, adding aloud, "It'snothing. I turned my foot a little, that's all," and limped upstairsto put her things on.
Hannah scolded, Meg cried, and Jo was at her wits' end, tillse decided to take things into her own hands. Slipping out, she randown and, finding a servant, asked if he could get her a carriage.It happened to be a hired waiter who knew nothing about theneighborhood and Jo was looking round for help when Laurie, who hadheard what she said, came up and offered his grandfather's carriage,which had just come for him, he said.
"It's so early! You can't mean to go yet?" began Jo. lookingrelieved but hesitating to accept the offer.
"I always go early, I do, truly! Please let me take you home.It's all on my way, you know, and it rains, they say."
That settled it, and telling him of Meg's mishap, Jo gratefullyaccepted and rushed up to bring down the rest of the party. Hannahhated rain as much as a cat does so she made no trouble, and theyrolled away in the luxurious close carriage, feeling very festiveand elegant. Laurie went on the box so Meg could keep her foot up,and the girls talked over their party in freedom.
"I had a capital time. Did you?' asked Jo, rumpling up herhair, and making herself comfortable.
"Yes, till I hurt myself. Sallie's friend, Annie Moffat, tooka fancy to me, and asked me to come and spend a week with her whenSallie does. She is going in the spring when the opera comes, andit will be perfectly splendid, if Mother only lets me go," answeredMeg, cheering up at the thought.
"I saw you dancing with the red headed man I ran away from. Washe nice?"
"Oh. very! His hair is auburn, not red, and he was very polite,and I had a delicious redowa with him."
"He looked like a grasshopper in a fit when he did the new step.Laurie and I couldn't help laughing. Did you hear us?"
"No, but it was very rude. What were you about all that time,hidden away there?"
Jo told her adventures, and by the time she had finished theywere at home. With many thanks, they said good night and crept in,hoping to disturb no one, but the instant their door creaked, twolittle nightcaps bobbed up, and two sleepy but eager voices cried out...
"Tell about the party! Tell about the party!"
With what Meg called `a great want of manners' Jo had saved somebonbons for the little girls, and they soon subsided, after hearingthe most thrilling events of the evening.
"I declare, it really seems like being a fine young lady, tocome home from the party in a carriage and sit in my dressing gownwit a maid to wait on me," said Meg, as Jo bound up her foot witharnica and brushed her hair.
"I don't believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit morethan we do, in spite of our burned hair, old gowns, one glove apieceand tight slippers that sprain our ankles when we are silly enoughto wear them," And I think Jo was quite right.