不管出于什么动机，那 一年劳里的学业相当成功，他以优异的成绩毕了业。他的拉丁语演说有着菲力气斯的优雅，狄摩西尼的雄辩，他的朋友们这样评论。他们都在常他的祖父--哦，那 么自豪！--马奇先生和马奇太太，约翰和梅格，乔和贝思，所有人都带着发自内心的赞赏之情为他狂喜。男孩子们当时或许并不在意，可是经历的成功怕是再难得 到如此的激赏了。
“我得留下来吃这该死的晚饭，明天一早我就回家，姑娘们，你们能像平常那样来接我吗？“快乐的一天结束了，劳里将姑娘们送进车厢时这么说。他说"姑 娘们"，其实指的是乔，因为只有她一个人保持着这个老习惯。她不想拒绝她成绩卓著的男孩提出的任何事情，便热情地回答道--“我会来的，特迪，无论如何都 会来，我会走在你前面，用单簧口琴为你弹奏《为凯旋的英雄欢呼》。“劳里谢了她，他脸上的神色使乔突然恐慌起来。“哦，天哪！我晓得他要说些什么了。我怎 么办呢？“晚上的思索、早上的工作稍稍减轻了她的担忧。她作出判断，在她已让人完全知道她会作什么样的答复之后，对方还会提出求婚，这样想是够愚蠢的。于 是她在预定的时间出发了，她希望特迪不会有所行动，使她伤害他那可怜的感情。
“我不是那种人。我从来不想让你那样爱我，只要有可能，我总是走开以免你这样。““我想就是那样，这像是你做的，但是没用。我反而更加爱你了。为了 讨你的欢心，我努力学习，我不打台球了，你不喜欢的事我都放弃了。我等待着，从不抱怨，我希望你会爱我，虽然我不够好，一半都不--"说到这里，他嗓子控 制不住地哽住了。他瞧着无茛，一边清着他那"该死的喉咙"。
除了你，他是我最好的朋友。请不要那样勃然大怒。我想表示友好，可要是你污蔑我的教授，我就会生气的。我一点也没想到过要爱他或者任何一个别的人。 “可是过一段时间你会爱他的，那我怎么办呢？““你也会爱上别人的，像一个明智的男孩，忘掉这一切烦恼吧。““我不会爱任何别的人了，我永远也忘不了你， 乔，永远，永远！“他一踩脚，用以强调他那激昂的话语。
从乔刚才的这番话，劳里看到了一线希望。他一屁股坐在了草地上乔的脚边，胳膊支在篱笆的下层台阶上，带着期待的神色抬头看着乔。对乔来说，这样的姿 态安排使她不能平静地说话，清楚地思考。他这样看着她，眼神里充满爱意与渴求，睫毛还是濡湿的，那是由于她的狠心话使他痛苦地流了几滴泪造成的。在这样的 情景中，她怎么能对她的男孩说绝情话呢？她轻轻地把他的头转过去，一边抚弄着他那卷曲的头发，一边说着话。他的头发是为她的缘故蓄养的--确实，那多么令 人感动！--“我赞同妈妈的看法，我俩不合适，因为我们的急躁脾气和坚强个性可能会使我们非常痛苦，要是我们愚蠢到要--"乔在最后一个词上停顿了一会 儿，但是劳里狂喜地说了出来。
“结婚--不，我们不会痛苦的！只要你爱我，乔，我会成为一个完美的圣人，因为你想把我变成啥样都行。““不，我做不到。我试过，但是失败了。我不 会用我们的幸福来冒险，做这种认真的试验。我们的意见不一致，永远也不会一致。所以我们一生都将是好朋友，而不要去做任何鲁莽的事。““不，如果有机会我 们就要做，“劳里顽固地咕哝着。
“我不会理智的，我不要你说的那种明智的看法，它对我没用，只能使你心更狠。我相信你没有任何感情。““我倒希望没有。“乔的声音有点儿发颤了。劳 里把这看作一个好的兆头，他转过身来，使出他所有的说服力，用从来没有过的极有感染力的哄人腔调说：“别让我们失望了，亲爱的！大家都期待着这件事，爷爷 下了决心要这样，你家人也喜欢，我没有你不行。说你愿意，让我们幸福，说吧，说吧！“几个月之后乔才懂得她下了多大决心才坚持住她作出的决定：她认定她不 爱她的男孩，永远不会。这样说很难，但是她还是说了。她知道延续既无用也残酷。
“会的，你会的，“乔坚持道，“过一段时间你就会从这件事中恢复过来，找到一个有教养的可爱姑娘，她会崇拜你，成为你漂亮的房子里优秀的女主人。可 我不会，我不漂亮，笨手笨脚，又古怪又老，你会为我感到难为情。我们还会吵架--你看，甚至现在我们都忍不住要吵--我不喜欢优雅的社会而你喜欢，你会讨 厌我乱写乱画，而我没这些不能过。我们会感到不幸福，会希望我们没这样做。一切都会令人不敢想象！““还有没有了？“劳里问。他感到很难耐心地听完她预言 似的这番话。
“是的，我会为他生，为他死的，只要他来到我身边，让我情不自禁地爱上他。你必须尽力解脱！“乔叫了出来。她已经对可怜的特迪失去了耐心。“我已经 尽了力，可是你不愿放理智些。你这样缠着我索取我不能给你的东西，太自私了。我将永远喜欢你，作为朋友，真的，非常喜欢。但是，我永远不会和你结婚。你相 信得越早，对我们两人就越好--就这样了！“这一番话就像是火燃着了炸药。劳里看了她一会，仿佛不知道自己该怎么做，然后，猛地转过身，用一种决绝的语调 说：“你有一天会后悔的，乔。““噢，你到哪儿去？“她叫了起来。他的表情吓坏了她。
看着他摇晃着走下河岸朝小河走去，乔的心脏有一会儿停止了跳动。然而，只有做下很大的蠢事，犯了大罪，或者遭受了很深的痛苦，才会使一个年轻人轻 生。劳里不是那种一次失败就能击垮的弱者。他没打算作惊人之举，跳入河中，但是盲目的本能冲动使他将帽子和外衣扔进他的小船里，然后拼命划着船走了。他划 船的速度超过了许多次比赛的划速。
“那样对他会有好处的。他回到家时，会处于一种敏感、懊悔的情绪中，我倒不敢见他了，“她想。她慢慢地往家走，感到她像是屠杀了某种无辜的东西，然 后将之埋在了树叶下面。她又接着想道：“现在我得去找劳伦斯先生，让他非常和善地对待我可怜的男孩。我希望他会爱上贝思，也许以后他会的。然而我又想是不 是我误解了她。哦，天哪！女孩子们怎么能又要情人又拒绝他们。这真是太狠心了。“她确信这件事除了她自己没有人能做得更好，因此她直接去找了劳伦斯先生， 勇敢地把这难以出口的事情经过告诉了他。然后她垮了，十分沮丧地为她的冷酷无情哭了起来，那和善的老先生虽然也非常失望，却没说一句责备的话。他发现很难 理解竟有女孩子不爱劳里，他希望乔会改变主意。但是他比乔更明白，爱是不能强迫的。因此他只是悲哀地摇着头。他决心要让他的孩子远离伤害，因为毛头小伙子 和乔分别时说的话使他大为不安，尽管他不愿承认这点。
劳里回到家时，精疲力尽但是相当镇静。爷爷像是没事儿似地迎着他，有一两个小时，爷爷非常成功地保持着这种状况。黄昏时爷孙俩坐到了一起。过去他们 特别珍惜这段时间，但是现在老人很难做到像往常一样闲聊，而年轻人就更难倾听老人表扬他去年获得的成功。那次成功现在对他来说似乎是爱的徒劳。他尽力忍受 着，后来走到钢琴房开始弹奏。
“我受不了了，“老人咕哝着。他站起来，摸索着走到钢琴房，慈善地将手放在劳里宽阔的双肩上，像妇人那样亲切地说：“我知道，孩子，我知道。“劳里 一时没答腔，然后高声问：“谁告诉你的？““乔，她自己。““那就完了！“他不耐烦地抖掉爷爷放在他肩上的手。尽管他感激爷爷的同情，但他男子汉的自尊心 使他不能忍受来自男人的怜悯。
劳里像刚才一样快速地走了起来。他伸出手，粗声粗气地说：“我是个自私、残忍的人，可是--你知道--爷爷--““上帝保佑，是的，我的确知道。这 一切我以前都经历过，先是我年轻时，后是你父亲的事。好了，我亲爱的孩子，静静地坐下来听听我的计划。一切都已安排好，马上就能执行，“劳伦斯先生说。他 抓住年轻人，好像害怕他会逃走，像他父亲以前做的那样。
“我在伦敦的业务需要料理。我原打算让你去处理的，不过我自己办更好。这里的事有布鲁克负责，会进行得很好。我的合作者几乎干了所有的事，我只是守 着这个位子等你来接替，我随时都可以离开了。““可是，爷爷，你讨厌旅行。您那么大年纪了，我不能这么要求您，“劳里开口说。他感激爷爷作出的牺牲，但是 如果要去的话，他宁愿独自去。
老先生对这一点非常了解，他特别想阻止他一人去，因为，他发现孙子的心境不佳，这使他确信让劳里自行其是不太明智。一想到出门会丢弃家庭的舒适自然 感到遗憾，可是老先生抑制了这种遗憾，决然地说：“谢天谢地，我还没老到该淘汰的地步。我很喜欢这个想法。那对我有好处。我的老骨头不会受罪，因为现在的 旅行几乎就像坐在椅子里一样舒服。“劳里不安地扭动着，使人想到他坐的椅子不舒服，也就是说他不喜欢这个计划。这使老人赶忙补充道：“我并不想成为好事者 或者负担。我以为，我去了你会感到比丢下我要快乐些。我不打算和你一起闲聊，而是由你高兴，愿去哪就去哪，我以我的方式自我消遣。我在伦敦和巴黎都有朋 友，我想去拜访他们。同时，你可以去意大利、德国、瑞士，去你想去的地方，尽情欣赏绘画、音乐、风景以及冒险活动。“当时，劳里感到他的心完全碎了，整个 世界成了野兽咆哮的荒野。可是一听到老先生在最后一句话里巧妙地夹进去的字眼，碎了的心出乎意料地跳动起来，一两块绿洲也出现在那野兽咆哮的荒野。他叹了 口气，无精打采地说：“就照你说的做吧，先生，我去哪里、做什么都没关系。““对我却有关系。记住这一点，孩子。我给你充分的自由，我相信你会老老实实地 利用它的，答应我，劳里。““你要我怎样就怎样，先生。““好的，“老先生想，“现在你不在乎，可是有一天这个保证可以阻止你淘气的。不然我就大错特错 了。“劳伦斯先生是个精力充沛的人，他趁热打铁，没等到这个失恋者恢复足够的精神来反抗，他们已上了路。在必要的准备期间，劳里的举止和处于这种情况下的 年轻人通常所表现的一样，他一会儿郁郁不乐，一会儿恼怒，一会儿又陷入沉思。他食欲不振，不修边幅。他花很长时间在钢琴上狂暴地弹着。他躲着乔，但是却神 色悲哀地从窗后盯着她聊以自慰。乔夜里常梦见那张悲哀的面孔，到了白天，那张脸压迫着她，使她产生了沉重的负疚感。不像一些遭受痛苦的人，他从不说起他的 单恋，他不允许任何人，甚至马奇太太尝试安慰他或者表示同情。由于一些原因，这使他的朋友们感到宽慰。但是，他出发前的几个星期非常令人不好受。“那可怜 的人儿要离开去忘掉烦恼，回家时会快乐起来的。“每个人都为此感到高兴。自然，他带着可怜的傲慢态度对他们的幻想一笑置之。他知道他的忠诚就像他的爱，是 不会变更的。
离别之时到来了，他装作兴高采烈，以掩盖某种扰人的情绪，这种情绪似乎有要表现出来的势头。他装出来的欢乐劲并没有感染任何人，但是为了他的缘故， 大家都试着做出受感染的样子。他做得很好，后来马奇太太来吻了他，低低说了句什么，话语中充满母亲式的关怀。他觉得很快就要走了，便匆匆拥抱了身边所有的 人，连忧伤的罕娜嬷嬷也没忘掉。然后他逃命般地跑下楼去。一分钟后乔随后跟了下来，她打算要是他回头就向他挥手。他真的回头了，他走回来，拥抱她。她站在 他上面的一级楼梯，他向上看着他，脸上的神情使他简短的恳求既有说服力，又打动人。
Whatever his motive might have been, Laurie studied tosome purpose that year, for he graduated with honor, andgave the Latin oration with the grace of a Phillips and theeloquence of a Demosthenes, so his friends said. They wereall there, his grandfather--oh, so proud--Mr. and Mrs. March,John and Meg, Jo and Beth, and all exulted over him with thesincere admiration which boys make light of at the time, butfail to win from the world by any after-triumphs.
"I've got to stay for this confounded supper, but I shallbe home early tomorrow. You'll come and meet me as usual,girls?" Laurie said, as he put the sisters into the carriageafter the joys of the day were over. He said `girls', but hemeant Jo, for she was the only one who kept up the old custom.She had not the heart to refuse her splendid, successful boyanything, and answered warmly...
"I'll come, Teddy, rain or shine, and march before you,playing `Hail the conquering hero comes' on a jew's-harp."
Laurie thanked her with a look that made her think in asudden panic, "Oh, deary me! I know he'll say something, andthen what shall I do?"
Evening meditation and morning work somewhat allayed herfears, and having decided that she wouldn't be vain enoughto think people were going to propose when she had given themevery reason to know what her answer would be, she set forthat the appointed time, hoping Teddy wouldn't do anything tomake her hurt his poor feelings. A call at Meg's, and arefreshing sniff and sip at the Daisy and Demijohn, stillfurther fortified her for the tete-a-tete, but when she sawa stalwart figure looming in the distance, she had a strongdesire to turn about and run away.
"Where's the jew's-harp, Jo?" cried Laurie, as soon ashe was within speaking distance.
"I forgot it." And Jo took heart again, for that salutationcould not be called loverlike.
She always used to take his arm on these occasions, nowshe did not, and he made no complaint, which was a bad sign,but talked on rapidly about all sorts of faraway subjects,till they turned from the road into the little path that ledhomeward through the grove. Then he walked more slowly, suddenlylost his fine flow of language, and now and then a dreadfulpause occurred. To rescue the conversation from one ofthe wells of silence into which it kept falling, Jo saidhastily, "Now you must have a good long holiday!"
"I intend to."
Something in his resolute tone made Jo look up quickly tofind him looking down at her with an expression that assuredher the dreaded moment had come, and made her put out her handwith an imploring, "No, Teddy. Please don't!"
"I will, and you must hear me. It's no use, Jo, we've gotto have it out, and the sooner the better for both of us," heanswered, getting flushed and excited all at once.
"Say what you like then. I'll listen," said Jo, with adesperate sort of patience.
Laurie was a young lover, but he was in earnest, and meantto `have it out', if he died in the attempt, so he plunged intothe subject with characteristic impetuousity, saying in a voicethat would get choky now and then, in spite of manful efforts tokeep it steady . ..
"I've loved you ever since I've known you, Jo, couldn't helpit, you've been so good to me. I've tried to show it, but youwouldn't let me. Now I'm going to make you hear, and give me ananswer, for I can't go on so any longer."
"I wanted to save you this. I thought you'd understand...began Jo, finding it a great deal harder than she expected.
"I know you did, but the girls are so queer you never knowwhat they mean. They say no when they mean yes, and drive aman out of his wits just for the fun of it," returned Laurie,entrenching himself behind an undeniable fact.
"I don't. I never wanted to make you care for me so, andI went away to keep you from it if I could."
"I thought so. It was like you, but it was no use. Ionly loved you all the more, and I worked hard to please you,and I gave up billiards and everything you didn't like, andwaited and never complained, for I hoped you'd love me, thoughI'm not half good enough..." Here there was a choke thatcouldn't be controlled, so he decapitated buttercups while hecleared his `confounded throat'.
"You, you are, you're a great deal too good for me, andI'm so grateful to you, and so proud and fond of you, I don'tknow why I can't love you as you want me to. I've tried, butI can't change the feeling, and it would be a lie to say I dowhen I don't."
"Really, truly, Jo?"
He stopped short, and caught both her hands as he puthis question with a look that she did not soon forget.
"Really, truly, dear."
They were in the grove now, close by the stile, and whenthe last words fell reluctantly from Jo's lips, Laurie droppedher hands and turned as if to go on, but for once in his lifethe fence was too much for him. So he just laid his head downon the mossy post, and stood so still that Jo was frightened.
"Oh, Teddy, I'm sorry, so desperately sorry, I could killmyself if it would do any good! I wish you wouldn't take itso hard, I can't help it. You know it's impossible for peopleto make themselves love other people if they don't," cried Joinelegantly but remorsefully, as she softly patted his shoulder,remembering the time when he had comforted her so long ago.
"They do sometimes," said a muffled voice from the post."I don't believe it's the right sort of love, and I'drather not try it," was the decided answer.
There was a long pause, while a blackbird sung blithely onthe willow by the river, and the tall grass rustled in the wind.Presently Jo said very soberly, as she sat down on the step ofthe stile, "Laurie, I want to tell you something."
He started as if he had been shot, threw up his head, andcried out in a fierce tone, "Don't tell me that, Jo, I can't bearit now!"
"Tell what?" she asked, wondering at his violence.
"That you love that old man."
"What old man?" demanded Jo, thinking he must mean hisgrandfather.
"That devilish Professor you were always writing about.If you say you love him, I know I shall do something desperate."And he looked as if he would keep his word, as he clenchedhis hands with a wrathful spark in his eyes.
Jo wanted to laugh, but restrained herself and said warmly,for she too, was getting excited with all this, "Don't swear,Teddy! He isn't old, nor anything bad, but good and kind, andthe best friend I've got, next to you. Pray, don't fly intoa passion. I want to be kind, but I know I shall get angry ifyou abuse my Professor. I haven't the least idea of lovinghim or anybody else."
"But you will after a while, and then what will become of me?"
"You'll love someone else too, like a sensible boy, andforget all this trouble."
"I can't love anyone else, and I'll never forget you, Jo,Never! Never!" with a stamp to emphasize his passionate words.
"What shall I do with him?" sighed Jo, finding that emotionswere more unmanagable than she expected. "You haven't heardwhat I wanted to tell you. Sit down and listen, for indeed Iwant to do right and make you happy," she said, hoping to soothehim with a little reason, which proved that she knew nothingabout love.
Seeing a ray of hope in that last speech, Laurie threw himselfdown on the grass at her feet, leaned his arm on the lowerstep of the stile, and looked up at her with an expectant face.Now that arrangement was not conducive to calm speech or clearthought on Jo's part, for how could she say hard things to herboy while he watched her with eyes full of love and longing,and lashes still wet with the bitter drop or two her hardnessof heart had wrung from him? She gently turned his head away,saying, as she stroked the wavy hair which had been allowed togrow for her sake--how touching that was, to be sure!"I agree with Mother that you and I are not suited to eachother, because our quick tempers and strong wills would probablymake us very miserable, if we were so foolish as to..."Jo paused a little over the last word, but Laurie uttered itwith a rapturous expression.
"Marry--no we shouldn't! If you loved me, Jo, I shouldbe a perfect saint, for you could make me anything you like."
"No, I can't. I've tried and failed, and I won't riskour happiness by such a serious experiment. We don't agree andwe never shall, so we'll be good friends all our lives, but wewon't go and do anything rash."
"Yes, we will if we get the chance," muttered Laurie rebelliously.
"Now do be reasonable, and take a sensible view of the case,"implored Jo, almost at her wit's end.
"I won't be reasonable. I don't want to take what youcall `a sensible view'. It won't help me, and it only makesit harder. I don't believe you've got any heart."
"I wish I hadn't."
There was a little quiver in Jo's voice, and thinking it agood omen, Laurie turned round, bringing all his persuasivepowers to bear as he said, in the wheedlesome tone that hadnever been so dangerously wheedlesome before, "Don't disappointus, dear! Everyone expects it. Grandpa has set his heart uponit, your people like it, and I can't get on without you. Sayyou will, and let's be happy. Do, do!"
Not until months afterward did Jo understand how she hadthe strength of mind to hold fast to the resolution she hadmade when she decided that she did not love her boy, andnever could. It was very hard to do, but she did it, knowingthat delay was both useless and cruel.
"I can't say `yes' truly, so I won't say it at all. You'llsee that I'm right, by-and-by, and thank me for it..." shebegan solemnly.
"I'll be hanged if I do!" And Laurie bounced up off thegrass, burning with indignation at the very idea.
"Yes, you will!" persisted Jo. "You'll get over this aftera while, and find some lovely accomplished girl, who will adoreyou, and make a fine mistress for your fine house. I shouldn't.I'm homely and awkward and odd and old, and you'd be ashamedof me, and we should quarrel--we can't help it even now, you see-andI shouldn't like elegant society and you would, and you'dhate my scribbling, and I couldn't get on without it, and weshould be unhappy, and wish we hadn't done it, and everythingwould be horrid!"
"Anything more?" asked asked Laurie, finding it hard tolisten patiently to this prophetic burst.
"Nothing more, except that I don't believe I shall evermarry. I'm happy as I am, and love my liberty too well tobe in a hurry to give it up for any mortal man."
"I know better!" broke in Laurie. "You think so now,but there'll come a time when you will care for somebody, andyou'll love him tremendously, and live and die for him. Iknow you will, it's your way, and I shall have to stand byand see it." And the despairing lover cast his hat upon theground with a gesture that would have seemed comical, if hisface had not been so tragic.
"Yes, I will live and die for him, if her ever comes andmakes me love him in spite of myself, and you must do the bestyou can!" cried Jo, losing patience with poor Teddy. "I'vedone my best, but you won't be reasonable, and it's selfishof you to keep teasing for what I can't give. I shall alwaysbe fond of you, very fond indeed, as a friend, but I'll nevermarry you, and the sooner you believe it the better for bothof us--so now!"
That speech was like gunpowder. Laurie looked at her aminute as if he did not quite know what to do with himself,then turned sharply away, saying in a desperate sort of tone,"You'll be sorry some day, Jo."
"Oh, where are you going?" she cried, for his face frightened her.
"To the devil!" was the consoling answer.
For a minute Jo's heart stood still, as he swung himselfdown the bank toward the river, but it takes much folly, sinor misery to send a young man to a violent death, and Lauriewas not one of the weak sort who are conquered by a singlefailure. He had no thought of a melodramatic plunge, butsome blind instinct led him to fling hat and coat into his boat,and row away with all his might, making better time up theriver than he had done in any race. Jo drew a long breath andunclasped her hands as she watched the poor fellow trying tooutstrip the trouble which he carried in his heart.
"That will do him good, and he'll come home in such atender, penitent state of mind, that I shan't dare to see him."she said, adding, as she went slowly home, feeling as if shehad murdered some innocent thing, and buried it under theleaves. "Now I must go and prepare Mr. Laurence to be verykind to my poor boy. I wish he'd love Beth, perhaps he mayin time, but I begin to think I was mistaken about her. Ohdear! How can girls like to have lovers and refuse them? Ithink it's dreadful."
Being sure that no one could do it so well as herself, shewent straight to Mr. Laurence, told the hard story bravelythrough, and then broke down, crying so dismally over her owninsensibility that the kind old gentleman, though sorely disappointed,did not utter a reproach. He found it difficult to understandhow any girl could help loving Laurie, and hoped she wouldchange her mind, but he knew even better than Jo that lovecannot be forced, so he shook his head sadly and resolvedto carry his boy out of harm's way, for Young Impetuosity'sparting words to Jo disturbed him more than he would confess.
When Laurie came home, dead tired but quite composed, hisgrandfather met him as if he knew nothing, and kept up thedelusion very successfully for an hour or two. But when theysat together in the twilight, the time they used to enjoy somuch, it was hard work for the old man to ramble on as usual,and harder still for the young one to listen to praises ofthe last year's success, which to him now seemed like love'slabor lost. He bore it as long as he could, then went tohis piano and began to play. The window's were open, and Jo,walking in the garden with Beth, for once understood musicbetter than her sister, for he played the `SONATA PATHETIQUE',and played it as he never did before.
"That's very fine, I dare say, but it's sad enough to makeone cry. Give us something gayer, lad," said Mr. Laurence,whose kind old heart was full of sympathy, which he longed toshow but knew not how.
Laurie dashed into a livelier strain, played stormily forseveral minutes, and would have got through bravely, if in amomentary lull Mrs. March's voice had not been heard calling,"Jo, dear, come in. I want you."
Just what Laurie longed to say, with a different meaning!As he listened, he lost his place, the music ended with a brokenchord, and the musician sat silent in the dark.
"I can't stand this," muttered the old gentleman. Up hegot, groped his way to the piano, laid a kind hand on eitherof the broad shoulders, and said, as gently as a woman, "Iknow, my boy, I know."
No answer for an instant, then Laurie asked sharply, "Whotold you?"
"Then there's an end of it!" And he shook off his grandfather'shands with an impatient motion, for though gratefulfor the sympathy, his man's pride could not bear a man's pity.
"Not quite. I want to say one thing, and then there shallbe an end of it," returned Mr. Laurence with unusual mildness."You won't care to stay at home now, perhaps?"
"I don't intend to run away from a girl. Jo can't preventmy seeing her, and I shall stay and do it as long as I like,"interrupted Laurie in a defiant tone.
"Not if you are the gentleman I think you. I'm disappointed,but the girl can't help it, and the only thing leftfor you to do is to go away for a time. Where will you go?"
"Anywhere. I don't care what becomes of me." And Lauriegot up with a reckless laugh that grated on his grandfather'sear.
"Take it like a man, and don't do anything rash, for God'ssake. Why not go abroad, as you planned, and forget it?"
"But you've been wild to go, and I promised you shouldwhen you got through college."
"Ah, but I didn't mean to go alone!" And Laurie walkedfast through the room with an expression which it was wellhis grandfather did not see.
"I don't ask you to go alone. There's someone ready andglad to go with you, anywhere in the world."
"Who, Sir?' stopping to listen.
Laurie came back as quickly as he went, and put out hishand, saying huskily, "I'm a selfish brute, but--you know-Grandfather--"
"Lord help me, yes, I do know, for I've been through it allbefore, once in my own young days, and then with your father.Now, my dear boy, just sit quietly down and hear my plan. It'sall settled, and can be carried out at once," said Mr. Laurence,keeping hold of the young man, as if fearful that he would breakaway as his father had done before him.
"Well, sir, what is it?" And Laurie sat down, without asign of interest in face or voice.
"There is business in London that needs looking after. Imeant you should attend to it, but I can do it better myself,and things here will get on very well with Brooke to managethem. My partners do almost everything, I'm merely holdingon until you take my place, and can be off at any time."
"But you hate traveling, Sir. I can't ask it of you atyour age," began Laurie, who was grateful for the sacrifice,but much preferred to go alone, if he went at all.The old gentleman knew that perfectly well, and particularlydesired to prevent it, for the mood in which he found hisgrandson assured him that it would not be wise to leave him tohis own devices. So, stifling a natural regret at the thoughtof the home comforts he would leave behind him, he said stoutly,Bless your soul, I'm not superannuated yet. I quite enjoy theidea. It will do me good, and my old bones won't suffer, fortraveling nowadays is almost as easy as sitting in a chair."
A restless movement from Laurie suggested that his chairwas not easy, or that he did not like the plan, and made theold man add hastily, "I don't mean to be a marplot or a burden.I go because I think you'd feel happier than if I wasleft behind. I don't intend to gad about with you, but leaveyou free to go where you like, while I amuse myself in my ownway. I've friends in London and Paris, and should like tovisit them. Meantime you can go to Italy, Germany, Switzerland,where you will, and enjoy pictures, music, scenery,and adventures to your heart's content."
Now, Laurie felt just then that his heart was entirelybroken and the world a howling wilderness, but at the soundof certain words which the old gentleman artfully introducedinto his closing sentence, the broken heart gave an unexpectedleap, and a green oasis or two suddenly appeared in the howlingwilderness. He sighed, and then said, in a spiritless tone,"Just as you like, Sir. It doesn't matter where I go or what I do."
"It does to me, remember that, my lad. I give you entireliberty, but I trust you to make an honest use of it. Promiseme that, Laurie."
"Anything you like, Sir."
"Good," thought the old gentleman. "You don't care now,but there'll come a time when that promise will keep you outof mischief, or I'm much mistaken."
Being an energetic individual, Mr. Laurence struck whilethe iron was hot, and before the blighted being recovered spiritenough to rebel, they were off. During the time necessary forpreparation, Laurie bore himself as young gentleman usually doin such cases. He was moody, irritable, and pensive by turns,lost his appetite, neglected his dress and devoted much timeto playing tempestuously on his piano, avoided Jo, but consoledhimself by staring at her from his window, with a tragicface that haunted her dreams by night and oppressed her with aheavy sense of guilt by day. Unlike some sufferers, he neverspoke of his unrequited passion, and would allow no one, noteven Mrs. March, to attempt consolation or offer sympathy. Onsome accounts, this was a relief to his friends, but the weeksbefore his departure were very uncomfortable, and everyone rejoicedthat the `poor, dear fellow was going away to forget histrouble, and come home happy'. Of course, he smiled darkly attheir delusion, but passed it by with the sad superiority ofone who knew that his fidelity like his love was unalterable.
When the parting came he affected high spirits, to concealcertain inconvenient emotions which seemed inclined to assertthemselves. This gaiety did not impose upon anybody, but theytried to look as if it did for his sake, and he got on very welltill Mrs. March kissed him, whit a whisper full of motherlysolicitude. Then feeling that he was going very fast, he hastilyembraced them all round, not forgetting the afflicted Hannah, andran downstairs as if for his life. Jo followed a minute after towave her hand to him if he looked round. He did look round, cameback, put his arms about her as she stood on the step above him,and looked up at her with a face that made his short appeal eloquentand pathetic.
"Oh, Jo, can't you?"
"Teddy, dear, I wish I could!"
That was all, except a little pause. Then Laurie straightenedhimself up, said, "It's all right, never mind," and went away withoutanother word. Ah, but it wasn't all right, and Jo did mind, forwhile the curly head lay on her arm a minute after her hard answer,she felt as if she had stabbed her dearest friend, and when he lefther without a look behind him, she knew that the boy Laurie neverwould come again.