有一年光景，乔和教授 工作着，等待着，希望着。他们谈情说爱，偶尔相会。他们写了那么多的情书，以致一时洛阳纸贵，劳里如是说。第二年开始冷静些了，因为他们还未见到光明的前 景，马奇婶婶也突然过世了。他们最初的悲痛过去后--虽然老太太尖酸刻薄，他们还是爱她的--他们有理由高兴起来，因为她将梅园遗留给了乔，这使得种种欢 乐之事成为可能。
“可是，我亲爱的姑娘，那是间非常大的宅子，管理它要很多很多的钱。光是花园和果园就得两三个人照看。我想巴尔对农活也不在行。““要是我这么提 议，他会在那方面努力的。““你期待靠那里的农产品过活？嗯，听起来其乐无穷，可你会发现农活非常艰苦。““我们打算种的庄稼是有利可图的。“乔笑了起 来。
“我知道你会支持我的，先生。艾美也会的--我从她的眼神看出来了，虽然她小心谨慎，三思而后行。好啦，我亲爱的人们，“乔认真地说道，“你们得理 解这不是我一时心血来潮，而是酝酿已久的计划。在弗里茨来之前，我常想着，等我发了财，家里又没人需要我时，我就去租间大房子，收养那些没有母亲照顾的、 可怜的小弃儿，让他们的生活及时得到改善。我看到许多弃儿因为得不到适时的帮助而走向堕落。
“我曾经将我的计划告诉过弗里茨，他说那正是他想做的，他同意等我富裕了就着手去做。上帝保佑那好心人！他一生都在这么做--我是说，他帮助穷孩子 们，自己富不起来，将来也决富不了。钱在他的袋子里搁不长，积蓄不起来，而现在多亏了我那善良的老婶子，我不配得到她这样的爱。我富有了，至少我这样认 为。要是我们成功地开办一个学校，我们能在梅园生活得相当不错。那地方正适合男孩子们，宅子很大，家具既结实又简单。有许多屋子可容下十几个孩子，屋外有 非常好的场地。孩子们能在花园和果园帮忙：这样的工作有益健康，是不是，先生？而且弗里茨可以用他的方式训练、教育孩子们。爸爸会帮弗里茨的。我可以照顾 他们的饮食起居，爱抚他们，管教他们，妈妈会支持我的。我一直盼望能有许多孩子，尽情和这些可爱的小东西们狂欢作乐。想想那是什么样的享受！--我拥有了 梅园，还有一大群孩子和我一起共享田庄！“乔兴奋地手舞足蹈，全家人爆发了一阵欢笑。劳伦斯先生大笑着，使得他们担心他会笑出中风来。
“我看不出有什么好笑的，“笑声停止时，乔神情严肃地说，“我的教授开办学校，而我宁愿住在我自己的田庄，没有什么比这更自然、更适当的了。““她 已经摆出架子了，“劳里说。他把这个想法当成了一个天大的笑话。“我可以请教你打算用什么来维持学校呢？要是所有的学生都是流浪儿，用世俗的观点来看，我 恐怕你的庄稼不会有利可图的，巴尔夫人。““哎呀，特迪，别扫兴，我当然也会收些有钱的学生--也许就像那样开始，然后等到学校开起来了，我就能收下一两 个流浪儿，只为增添兴趣。富人的孩子和穷人的孩子一样，也需要照顾和安慰。我见过一些不幸的小东西们，他们被丢给仆人管。还有些迟钝的孩子被逼着上进。这 真是残忍。一些孩子因为调教不当或被忽视而变得不规矩，还有些孩子失去了母亲。而且，即使是最好的孩子也要经过少年时期，那一时期最需要人们耐心友善地对 待他们。可是，人们嘲笑他们，粗暴地对待他们，尽量地让他们处于视线之外，人们期望着他们突然从小孩子一变而成气质优良的大小伙子。他们极少抱怨--这些 胆大的小东西们--但是他们有感觉的。
“而且，我的成功超出我所预料的，因为，瞧你，一个稳重、精明的商人，用你的钱财做了大量的好事。你不是在积蓄美元，而是在积蓄穷人的祝福。你不仅 仅是个商人，你崇尚善美之事，并享有其中的乐趣，你让别人分享你一半的财富，就像过去常做的那样。特迪，我真为你骄傲，你日见长进，虽然你不让大家说，但 大家都感到了这一点。是的，等我有了一群孩子，我就会指着你对他们说：'孩子们，那就是你们的榜样。'“可怜的劳里眼睛不知往哪儿看了，因为这一阵赞扬使 得所有的脸都转向他，大家赞许地看着他，他又产生了以前那种羞怯。
“我说，乔，那太过分了，“他又以从前那种男孩气语调开了腔，“你是为我做了许多，我无法感激你，只能尽力不让你失望。最近你完全抛弃我了，乔，可 我还是得到了最好的帮助，所以，要说我有什么长进，你得感谢这两位。“他一只手轻轻地放在爷爷花白的头上，另一只手放在艾美的金发上，这三个人从来离不开 多远。
此时她的精神异常高涨。“我自己成了家后，希望和另外三个家庭一样幸福。我了解也非常喜欢那三个家庭，要是约翰和弗里茨也在这里，那真是地球上的一 个小天堂，“她接着说道，声音放低了些。那天晚上，一家人快活地谈论着家庭计划、希望、打算，乔回到自己的房间时，心中溢满了幸福。她跪在一直靠近自己的 那张空床边，柔情万端地想着贝思，以此平静自己的心情。
那一年过得令人非常吃惊，事情似乎发生得非同寻常地迅速顺利。乔几乎还没有反应过来是怎么回事，就已经结了婚，在梅园安顿了下来，接着，六七个小男 孩如雨后春笋般地冒出来，学校办得火红，令人惊奇。学生们有穷孩子，也有富孩子，因为，劳伦斯先生不断地发现引人怜悯的贫穷人家，恳求巴尔夫妇可怜孩子， 而他会高兴地付些钱加以资助。
这工作开始时自然费力，乔犯着莫名其妙的错误，然而，教授安全地将她引进平静的水面，最不受管束的流浪儿，最终也被征服了。乔是多么地欣赏她的"男 孩荒野"啊！梅园以前干干净净，井然有序，如今，大批的汤姆们、迪克们、哈里们出没于这片神圣的领地。要是那可敬可怜的马奇婶婶看到这一切，她老人家会怎 样地悲叹啊！然而，毕竟这事情中还有某种劝善惩恶的成份，因为方园几里路之内的男孩子们都非常害怕老太太，现在小亡命者们无拘无束地大吃着禁果李子，不受 责骂地用肮脏的靴子踢着砾石，在大空场地上玩着板球，而以前那儿有着易怒的"有着弯角的牛"，吸引着鲁莽的小家伙们过去，被牛角挑起。如今这里成了这种男 孩子的天堂。劳里建议它应叫作"巴尔花院"，这对主人是种赞扬，对居住在这里的人们来说比喻贴切。
学校决不赶时尚，教授也没积蓄其钱财，但是正像乔计划的那样--"对那些需要教导、照料、爱抚的男孩子们，这个地方幸福，像家一样。“很快，大宅子 里每间屋子都满了，花园里每一小块地都有了主人，仓库与棚屋里出现了定期的动物展览，因为允许他们养宠物。一天三次，乔坐在长餐桌的一端向她的弗里茨笑 着，桌子两边各坐着一排幸福的孩子，他们都很有感情地看着她，他们对"巴尔妈妈“吐露知心话，对她心存感激，充满爱恋。现在，她有足够的男孩子了，她从不 厌烦他们，虽然他们决不是天使，有些孩子使教授及夫人大伤脑筋。但是，她相信，即使在最淘气、最莽撞、最让应为花园：巴尔英语发音不标准，劳里是在模仿他 的发音。
人烦心的小流浪儿们身上也有优点，这给了她耐心、技巧，最终使她成功。巴尔爸爸像太阳一样亲切地照耀着他们，巴尔妈妈一天要宽恕他们七七四十九次， 在这种情况下，只要那男孩是凡人，就不可能顽抗到底。这些孩子们对她的友谊，他们干了坏事后悔罪时鼻子的抽齐声和低声说话声，他们有趣又感人的小秘密话， 他们可爱的热情、希望和计划，甚至他们的不幸，这些对乔来说都是非常珍贵的，因为那使她更加喜爱他们。这些男孩子们有的迟钝，有的腼腆；有的虚弱，有的闹 人；有的孩子说话口齿不清，有的说话结结巴巴；有一两个孩子跛腿；还有一个快乐的小混血儿，别的地方都不接受他，而"巴尔花院"却欢迎他，尽管有些人预料 接受他会毁了这学校。
的确，尽管工作繁忙，焦虑重重，还有永无止境的忙乱，乔在那里是个幸福的妇人。她由衷地欣赏这一切，她感到男孩们对她的称颂要比世间任何赞扬都更令 人满意。现在，她只对她一群热情的信徒及敬慕者讲故事。随着岁月的流逝，她自己的两个孩子出世了，为她增添了幸福--罗布，以爷爷的名字命名；特迪，一个 无忧无虑的小家伙，他似乎继承了爸爸快活的脾气、妈妈旺盛的精神。在那一群混乱的男孩堆里，他们怎样能活泼地成长，这始终是奶奶和几个姨的一个谜。然而， 他们如同春天的蒲公英茁壮成长。那些粗鲁的保姆们很爱他们，对他们照顾得也很好。
梅园有许许多多节假日，最愉快的节日便是每年一度摘苹果的时候。那时，马奇夫妇、劳伦斯夫妇、布鲁克夫妇，还有巴尔夫妇全体出动，干上一整天。乔结 婚五年后，又到了那天，乔如鱼得水。她用针别起了身上的长袍，帽子压根儿没戴在头上。她胳膊下夹着儿子，四处奔着，随时准备应付可能出现的惊险事件。小特 迪有刀枪不入的能耐，他没发生过任何事情。乔从来没担心过他，无论是他被一个男孩一下弄上树去，还是另一个男孩驮着他飞跑开去，还是当他那溺爱的爸爸给他 吃酸味的冬季粗苹果时，她都不担心。他爸爸带有日耳曼人的幻想，认为孩子们能消化任何东西，从腌菜到钮扣、钉子，还有他们的小鞋。他知道她的小特迪最后总 会安然无恙，面色红润，脏兮兮却静悄悄地出现的，她总是热情欢迎他回来，乔百般柔情地爱她的孩子们。
四点时，劳动暂停。篮子空了，摘苹果的人休息了，他们互相比着衣服的撕裂处和身上的擦伤。乔，梅格，还有一支大男孩组成的小分队，在草地上摆着晚 餐。这顿户外茶点总是这一天最快乐的时分。在这种场合，不夸张地说，地上流淌着牛奶与蜂蜜，因为，他们不要孩子们坐在桌边吃，而是允许他们随意吃茶点-- 这种自由是个刺激，男孩子们心中热爱它。他们最大限度地充分利用了这个难得的特权。一些孩子做着有趣的实验，倒立着喝牛奶，另一些孩子做着蛙跳游戏，中间 停顿时便吃着馅饼，使游戏更有诱惑力。饼干撒遍了田野，吃了一半的苹果栖息在树上，像是一种新的鸟类。小女孩们私下开着茶会，小特迪在能吃的东西之间随心 所欲地徘徊着。
“现在，为奶奶六十岁生日干杯！祝她长寿，三呼万岁！“这是由衷的提议，读者完全可以相信。他们又一次开始欢呼起来，很难止祝他们为每个人的健康都 干了杯，从劳伦斯先生到那只吃惊的豚鼠--劳伦斯先生被视为他们特别的恩主，而那只豚鼠离开它适当的属地来寻找它的小主人。然后，德米作为长孙，向当天的 女人赠送各种礼品。礼品太多了，只好用独轮手推车运到喜庆场地。一些礼品很好笑，然而，在别人眼里看来有瑕疵的东西，奶奶看着都能用作装饰品--孩子们的 礼品都是他们自己制作的。黛西的小手指耐心地为手帕镶了边，那一针一线在马奇太太看来都比刺绣的要好；德米的鞋盒子是机械技艺的奇迹，虽然那盒子盖不上； 罗布的脚凳腿扭动着立不稳定，她却说令人舒服；艾美的孩子送给她的书上用大写字母东倒西歪地写着--"赠亲爱的奶奶，她的小贝思。“任何贵重的书都不及这 本书好。
在赠礼仪式进行中间，那帮男孩子神秘地消失不见了。马奇太太想感谢她的孙儿孙女们，却感动得不能自持，小特迪用他的围裙为奶奶擦去泪水。教授突然开 始唱了起来。于是，从他们头上方，不同的声音接上了歌词，一颗颗树间回荡着看不见的合唱队的歌声。男孩子们诚心诚意地唱着。这支小歌是乔写的词，劳里谱的 曲，教授训练孩子们唱的。在这个场合演唱效果极佳。这真是一件新鲜事，结果大获成功，马奇太太遏制不住惊喜，她坚持要和每一只没有父亲的鸟儿握手，从高个 儿的弗朗兹和埃米尔到那小混血儿，这些孩子们声音非常甜美动听。
“是的，我记得。可是我那时向往的生活现在看来似乎自私、孤寂、清冷。然而，我并没有放弃写本好书的希望，我可以等待，我确信我生活里有了这样的经 验和例证，书会写得更好。“乔指着远处蹦蹦跳跳的孩子们，又指指爸爸。爸爸倚着教授的胳膊，两人在阳光里正走来走去，热烈地谈着什么两人都非常感兴趣的话 题。乔接着指了指坐在那里的妈妈。女儿们崇敬地围绕着她。她膝上、脚边坐着她的孙儿孙女，好像大家都从她那儿得到了帮助和幸福，她那张脸在他们看来永远不 会衰老。
“我的楼阁和我的计划完全两样。但是，我不会像乔那样更改的。我没放弃我所有的艺术希望，也没把自己局限于帮助别人实现美梦。我已经开始制作一个孩 子塑像。劳里说那是我做的最好的一件。我自己也这么认为。我打算用大理石制作。这样不管发生什么事，至少我可以保留我的小天使的形象。“艾美说着，一大滴 泪珠落在了睡在她臂弯里的孩子的金发上，她深深爱着的这个女儿，弱不经风，失去她的担心是艾美幸福生活中的阴影，这个不幸对父亲母亲都有很大影响，因为爱 情与痛苦把两个人紧密地联结在一起。艾美的性情变得更加甜美、深沉、温柔，劳里变得更加严肃、强舰坚强。
“我根本就不应灰心，我有你鼓励，妈咪，有劳里承担一大半负担，“艾美热情地说，“他从不让我看出他的焦虑。他对我那么温柔、耐心，对小贝思又是那 么尽心。这对我来说总是很大的支持与安慰，我怎么爱他都不过分。所以，尽管我有这个不幸，我还是能像梅格那样说：'感谢上帝，我是个幸福的女人。'““我 没有必要再说了。大家都看得出来，我得到的幸福远远超过了我应享有的，“乔接着说。她扫视她的好丈夫和在她身边草地上翻滚着的胖孩子们。“弗里茨越来越 老，越来越胖了，而我像个影子日渐消瘦了。我已经三十岁了，我们根本富不起来！梅园说不上哪天夜里会给烧掉，因为那个不肯改悔的汤米·邦斯非要在被褥下抽 香蕨木烟。他已经三次烧着了自己。可是尽管有这些不太浪漫的事情，我也没什么可抱怨的了，我一生中从来没有像这样快活过。请原谅我的措辞。
For a year Jo and her Professor worked and waited, hopedand loved, met occasionally, and wrote such voluminous lettersthat the rise in the price of paper was accounted for, Lauriesaid. The second year began rather soberly, for their prospectsdid not brighten, and Aunt March died suddenly. But when theirfirst sorrow was over--for they loved the old lady in spiteof her sharp tongue--they found they had cause for rejoicing,for she had left Plumfield to Jo, which made all sorts of joyfulthings possible.
"It's a fine old place, and will bring a handsome sum, forof course you intend to sell it," said Laurie, as they were alltalking the matter over some weeks later.
"No, I don't," was Jo's decided answer, as she petted thefat poodle, whom she had adopted, out of respect to his formermistress.
"You don't mean to live there?"
"Yes, I do."
"But, my dear girl, it's an immense house, and will take apower of money to keep it in order. The garden and orchard aloneneed two or three men, and farming isn't in Bhaer's line, I takeit."
"He'll try his hand at it there, if I propose it."
"And you expect to live on the produce of the place? Well,that sounds paradisiacal, but you'll find it desperate hard work."
"The crop we are going to raise is a profitable one," AndJo laughed.
"Of what is this fine crop to consist, ma'am?"
"Boys. I want to open a school for little lads--a good,happy, homelike school, with me to take care of them and Fritzto teach them."
"That's a truly Joian plan for you! Isn't that just likeher?" cried Laurie, appealing to the family, who looked as muchsurprised as he.
"I like it," said Mrs. March decidedly.
"So do I," added her husband, who welcomed the thought ofa chance for trying the Socratic method of education on modernyouth.
"It will be an immense care for Jo," said Meg, strokingthe head or her one all-absorbing son.
"Jo can do it, and be happy in it. It's a splendid idea.Tell us all about it," cried Mr. Laurence, who had been longingto lend the lovers a hand, but knew that they would refuse hishelp.
"I knew you'd stand by me, sir. Amy does too--I see it inher eyes, though she prudently waits to turn it over in her mindbefore she speaks. Now, my dear people," continued Jo earnestly,"just understand that this isn't a new idea of mine, but a longcherished plan. Before my Fritz came, I used to think how, whenI'd made my fortune, and no one needed me at home, I'd hire abig house, and pick up some poor, forlorn little lads who hadn'tany mothers, and take care of them, and make life jolly for thembefore it was too late. I see so many going to ruin for want ofhelp at the right minute, I love so to do anything for them, Iseem to feel their wants, and sympathize with their troubles, andoh, I should so like to be a mother to them!"
Mrs. March held out her hand to Jo, who took it, smiling,with tears in her eyes, and went on in the old enthusiastic way,which they had not seen for a long while.
"I told my plan to Fritz once, and he said it was just whathe would like, and agreed to try it when we got rich. Bless hisdear heart, he's been doing it all his life--helping poor boys, Imean, not getting rich, that he'll never be. Money doesn't stayin his pocket long enough to lay up any. But now, thanks to mygood old aunt, who loved me better than I ever deserved, I'm rich,at least I feel so, and we can live at Plumfield perfectly well,if we have a flourishing school. It's just the place for boys,the house is big, and the furniture strong and plain. There'splenty of room for dozens inside, and splendid grounds outside.They could help in the garden and orchard. Such work is healthy,isn't it, sir? Then Fritz could train and teach in his own way,and Father will help him. I can feed and nurse and pet and scoldthem, and Mother will be my stand-by. I've always longed for lotsof boys, and never had enough, now I can fill the house full andrevel in the little dears to my heart's content. Think what luxury--Plumfield my own, and a wilderness of boys to enjoy it with me."
As Jo waved her hands and gave a sigh of rapture, the familywent off into a gale of merriment, and Mr. Laurence laughed tillthey thought he'd have an apoplectic fit.
"I don't see anything funny," she said gravely, when shecould be heard. "Nothing could be more natural and proper thanfor my Professor to open a school, and for me to prefer to residein my own estate."
"She is putting on airs already," said Laurie, who regardedthe idea in the light of a capital joke. "But may I inquire howyou intend to support the establishment? If all the pupils arelittle ragamuffins, I'm afraid your crop won't be profitable ina worldly sense, Mr. Bhaer."
"Now don't be a wet-blanket, Teddy. Of course I shall haverich pupils, also--perhaps begin with such altogether. Then,when I've got a start, I can take in a ragamuffin or two, justfor a relish. Rich people's children often need care and comfort,as well as poor. I've seen unfortunate little creatures left toservants, or backward ones pushed forward, when it's real cruelty.Some are naughty through mismanagment or neglect, and some losetheir mothers. Besides, the best have to get through the hobbledehoyage, and that's the very time they need most patience and kindness.People laugh at them, and hustle them about, try to keep themout of sight, and expect them to turn all at once from prettychildren into fine young men. They don't complain much--plucky little souls--but they feel it. I've been through some-thing of it, and I know all about it. I've a special interestin such young bears, and like to show them that I see the warm,honest, well-meaning boys' hearts, in spite of the clumsy armsand legs and the topsy-turvy heads. I've had experience, too,for haven't I brought up one boy to be a pride and honor to his family?"
"I'll testify that you tried to do it," said Laurie with a grateful look.
"And I've succeeded beyond my hopes, for here you are, asteady, sensible businessman, doing heaps of good with yourmoney, and laying up the blessings of the poor, instead of dollars.But you are not merely a businessman, you love good and beautifulthings, enjoy them yourself, and let others go halves, as youalways did in the old times. I am proud of you, Teddy, for youget better every year, and everyone feels it, though you won'tlet them say so. Yes, and when I have my flock, I'll just pointto you, and say `There's your model, my lads'."
Poor Laurie didn't know where to look, for, man though hewas, something of the old bashfulness came over him as this burstof praise made all faces turn approvingly upon him.
"I say, Jo, that's rather too much," he began, just in hisold boyish way. "You have all done more for me than I can everthank you for, except by doing my best not to disapoint you. Youhave rather cast me off lately, Jo, but I've had the best of help,nevertheless. So, if I've got on at all, you may thank these twofor it." And he laid one hand gently on his grandfather's head,and the other on Amy's golden one, for the three were never farapart.
"I do think that families are the most beautiful things inall the world!" burst out Jo, who was in an unusually up-liftedframe of mind just then. "When I have one of my own, I hope itwill be as happy as the three I know and love the best. If Johnand my Fritz were only here, it would be quite a little heavenon earth," she added more quietly. And that night when she wentto her room after a blissful evening of family counsels, hopes,and plans, her heart was so full of happiness that she could onlycalm it by kneeling beside the empty bed always near her own, andthinking tender thoughts of Beth.
It was a very astonishing year altogether, for things seemedto happen in an unusually rapid and delightful manner. Almostbefore she knew where she was, Jo found herself married and settledat Plumfield. Then a family of six or seven boys sprung uplike mushrooms, and flourished surprisingly, poor boys as well asrich, for Mr. Laurence was continually finding some touching caseof destitution, and begging the Bhaers to take pity on the child,and he would gladly pay a trifle for its support. In this way,the sly old gentleman got round proud Jo, and furnished her withthe style of boy in which she most delighted.
Of course it was uphill work at first, and Jo made queermistakes, but the wise Professor steered her safely into calmerwaters, and the most rampant ragamuffin was conquered in the end.How Jo did enjoy her `wilderness of boys', and how poor, dearAunt March would have lamented had she been there to see thesacred precincts of prim, well-ordered Plumfield overrun withToms, Dicks, and Harrys! There was a sort of poetic justiceabout it, after all, for the old lady had been the terror of the boysfor miles around, and now the exiles feasted freely on forbiddenplums, kicked up the gravel with profane boots unreproved,and played cricket in the big field where the irritable`cow with a crumpled horn' used to invite rash youths to come andbe tossed. It became a sort of boys' paradise, and Laurie suggestedthat it should be called the `Bhaer-garten', as a complimentto its master and appropriate to its inhabitants.
It never was a fashionable school, and the Professor did notlay up a fortune, but it was just what Jo intended it to be--`a happy, homelike place for boys, who needed teaching, care, andkindness'. Every room in the big house was soon full. Everylittle plot in the garden soon had its owner. A regular menagerieappeared in barn and shed, for pet animals were allowed.And three times a day, Jo smiled at her Fritz from the head ofa long table lined on either side with rows of happy young faces,which all turned to her with affectionate eyes, confiding words,and grateful hearts, full of love for `Mother Bhaer'. She hadboys enough now, and did not tire of them, though they were notangels, by any means, and some of them caused both Professor andProfessorin much trouble and anxiety. But her faith in the goodspot which exists in the heart of the naughtiest, sauciest, mosttantalizing little ragamuffin gave her patience, skill, and intime success, for no mortal boy could hold out long with FatherBhaer shining on him as benevolently as the sun, and Mother Bhaerforgiving him seventy times seven. Very precious to Jo was thefriendship of the lads, their penitent sniffs and whispers afterwrongdoing, their droll or touching little confidences, theirpleasant enthusiasms, hopes, and plans, even their misfortunes,for they only endeared them to her all the more. There were slowboys and bashful boys, feeble boys and riotous boys, boys thatlisped and boys that stuttered, one or two lame ones, and amerry little quadroon, who could not be taken in elsewhere, butwho was welcome to the `Bhaer-garten', though some people predictedthat his admission would ruin the school.
Yes, Jo was a very happy woman there, in spite of hard work,much anxiety, and a perpetual racket. She enjoyed it heartily andfound the applause of her boys more satisfying than any praise ofthe world, for now she told no stories except to her flock ofenthusiastic believers and admirers. As the years went on, twolittle lads of her own came to increase her happiness--Rob,named for Grandpa, and Teddy, a happy-go-lucky baby, who seemedto have inherited his papa's sunshiny temper as well as hismother's lively spirit. How they ever grew up alive in thatwhirlpool of boys was a mystery to their grandma and aunts, butthey flourished like dandelions in spring, and their roughnurses loved and served them well.
There were a great many holidays at Plumfield, and one ofthe most delightful was the yearly apple-picking. For then theMarches, Laurences, Brookes. And Bhaers turned out in full forceand made a day of it. Five years after Jo's wedding, one of thesefruitful festivals occurred, a mellow October day, when the airwas full of an exhilarating freshness which made the spirits riseand the blood dance healthily in the veins. The old orchard woreits holiday attire. Goldenrod and asters fringed the mossy walls.Grasshoppers skipped briskly in the sere grass, and crickets chirpedlike fairy pipers at a feast. Squirrels were busy with theirsmall harvesting. Birds twittered their adieux from the aldersin the lane, and every tree stood ready to send down its showerof red or yellow apples at the first shake. Everybody was there.Everybody laughed and sang, climbed up and tumbled down. Everybodydeclared that there never had been such a perfect day or sucha jolly set to enjoy it, and everyone gave themselves up tothe simple pleasures of the hour as freely as if there were nosuch things as care or sorrow in the world.
Mr. March strolled placidly about, quoting Tusser, Cowley,and Columella to Mr. Laurence, while enjoying...
The gentle apple's winey juice.
The Professor charged up and down the green aisles like a stoutTeutonic knight, with a pole for a lance, leading on the boys,who made a hook and ladder company of themselves, and performedwonders in the way of ground and lofty tumbling. Laurie devotedhimself to the little ones, rode his small daughter in a bushel-basket,took Daisy up among the bird's nests, and kept adventurousRob from breaking his neck. Mrs. March and Meg sat amongthe apple piles like a pair of Pomonas, sorting the contributionsthat kept pouring in, while Amy with a beautiful motherly expressionin her face sketched the various groups, and watched over onepale lad, who sat adoring her with his little crutch beside him.
Jo was in her element that day, and rushed about, with hergown pinned up, and her hat anywhere but on her head, and herbaby tucked under her arm, ready for any lively adventure whichmight turn up. Little Teddy bore a charmed life, for nothingever happened to him, and Jo never felt any anxiety when he waswhisked up into a tree by one lad, galloped off on the back ofanother, or supplied with sour russets by his indulgent papa,who labored under the Germanic delusion that babies could digestanything, from pickled cabbage to buttons, nails, and their ownsmall shoes. She knew that little Ted would turn up again intime, safe and rosy, dirty and serene, and she always receivedhim back with a hearty welcome, for Jo loved her babies tenderly.
At four o'clock a lull took place, and baskets remainedempty, while the apple pickers rested and compared rents andbruises. Then Jo and Meg, with a detachment of the bigger boys,set forth the supper on the grass, for an out-of-door tea wasalways the crowning joy of the day. The land literally flowedwith milk and honey on such occasions, for the lads were notrequired to sit at table, but allowed to partake of refreshmentas they liked--freedom being the sauce best beloved by the boyishsoul. They availed themselves of the rare privilege to thefullest extent, for some tried the pleasing experiment of drinkingmild while standing on their heads, others lent a charm toleapfrog by eating pie in the pauses of the game, cookies weresown broadcast over the field, and apple turnovers roosted inthe trees like a new style of bird. The little girls had aprivate tea party, and Ted roved among the edibles at his ownsweet will.
When no one could eat any more, the Professor proposed thefirst regular toast, which was always drunk at such times--"AuntMarch, God bless her!" A toast heartily given by the good man,who never forgot how much he owed her, and quietly drunk by theboys, who had been taught to keep her memory green.
"Now, Grandma's sixtieth birthday! Long life to her, withthree times three!"
That was given with a will, as you may well believe, andthe cheering once begun, it was hard to stop it. Everybody'shealth was proposed, form Mr. Laurence, who was considered theirspecial patron, to the astonished guinea pig, who had strayedfrom its proper sphere in search of its young master. Demi, asthe oldest grandchild, then presented the queen of the day withvarious gifts, so numerous that they were transported to thefestive scene in a wheelbarrow. Funny presents, some of them,but what would have been defects to other eyes were ornamentsto Grandma's--for the children's gifts were all their own. Everystitch Daisy's patient little fingers had put into the handkerchiefsshe hemmed was better than embroidery to Mrs. March. Demi'smiracle of mechanical skill, though the cover wouldn't shut, Rob'sfootstool had a wiggle in its uneven legs that she declared wassoothing, and no page of the costly book Amy's child gave her wasso fair as that on which appeared in tipsy capitals, the words--"To dear Grandma, from her little Beth."
During the ceremony the boys had mysteriously disappeared,and when Mrs. March had tried to thank her children, and brokendown, while Teddy wiped her eyes on his pinafore, the Professorsuddenly began to sing. Then, from above him, voice after voicetook up the words, and from tree to tree echoed the music of theunseen choir, as the boys sang with all their hearts the littlesong that Jo had written, Laurie set to music, and the Professortrained his lads to give with the best effect. This was somethingaltogether new, and it proved a grand success, for Mrs. Marchcouldn't get over her surprise, and insisted on shaking handswith every one of the featherless birds, from tall Franz andEmil to the little quadroon, who had the sweetest voice of all.
After this, the boys dispersed for a final lark, leaving Mrs.March and her daughters under the festival tree.
"I don't think I ever ought to call myself `unlucky Jo' again,when my greatest wish has been so beautifully gratified," said Mrs.Bhaer, taking Teddy's little fist out of the milk pitcher, in whichhe was rapturously churning.
"And yet your life is very different from the one you picturedso long ago. Do you remember our castles in the air?" asked Amy,smiling as she watched Laurie and John playing cricket with the boys.
"Dear fellows! It does my heart good to see them forget businessand frolic for a day," answered Jo, who now spoke in a maternalway of all mankind. "Yes, I remember, but the life I wanted thenseems selfish, lonely, and cold to me now. I haven't given up thehope that I may write a good book yet, but I can wait, and I'msure it will be all the better for such experiences and illustrationsas these." And Jo pointed from the lively lads in thedistance to her father, leaning on the Professor's arm, as theywalked to and fro in the sunshine, deep in one of the conversationswhich both enjoyed so much, and then to her mother, sitting enthronedamong her daughters, with their children in her lap and ather feet, as if all found help and happiness in the face whichnever could grow old to them.
"My castle was the most nearly realized of all. I asked forsplendid things, to be sure, but in my heart I knew I should besatisfied, if I had a little home, and John, and some dear childrenlike these. I've got them all, thank God, and am thehappiest woman in the world." And Meg laid her hand on her tallboy's head, with a face full of tender and devout content.
"My castle is very different from what I planned, but I wouldnot alter it, though, like Jo, I don't relinquish all my artistichopes, or confine myself to helping others fulfill their dreams ofbeauty. I've begun to model a figure of baby, and Laurie says itis the best thing I've ever done. I think so, myself, and meanto do it in marble, so that, whatever happens, I may at least keepthe image of my little angel."
As Amy spoke, a great tear dropped on the golden hair of thesleeping child in her arms, for her one well-beloved daughter wasa frail little creature and the dread of losing her was the shadowover Amy's sunshine. This cross was doing much for both fatherand mother, for one love and sorrow bound them closely together.Amy's nature was growing sweeter, deeper, and more tender. Lauriewas growing more serious, strong, and firm, and both were learningthat beauty, youth, good fortune, even love itself, cannot keepcare and pain, loss and sorrow, from the most blessed for ...
Into each life some rain must fall,Some days must be dark and sad and dreary.
"She is growing better, I am sure of it, my dear. Don'tdespond, but hope and keep happy," said Mrs. March, as tenderheartedDaisy stooped from her knee to lay her rosy cheek againsther little cousin's pale one.
"I never ought to, while I have you to cheer me up, Marmee,and Laurie to take more than half of every burden," replied Amywarmly. "He never lets me see his anxiety, but is so sweet andpatient with me, so devoted to Beth, and such a stay and comfortto me always that I can't love him enough. So, in spite of myone cross, I can say with Meg, `Thank God, I'm a happy woman.'"
"There's no need for me to say it, for everyone can seethat I'm far happier than I deserve," added Jo, glancing fromher good husband to her chubby children, tumbling on the grassbeside her. "Fritz is getting gray and stout. I'm growing asthin as a shadow, and am thirty. We never shall be rich, andPlumfield may burn up any night, for that incorrigible TommyBangs will smoke sweet-fern cigars under the bed-clothes,though he's set himself afire three times already. But inspite of these unromantic facts, I have nothing to complainof, and never was so jolly in my life. Excuse the remark, butliving among boys, I can't help using their expressions nowand then."
"Yes, Jo, I think your harvest will be a good one," beganMrs. March, frightening away a big black cricket that wasstaring Teddy out of countenance.
"Not half so good as yours, Mother. Here it is, and wenever can thank you enough for the patient sowing and reapingyou have done," cried Jo, with the loving impetuosity whichshe never would outgrow.
"I hope there will be more wheat and fewer tares everyyear," said Amy softly.
"A large sheaf, but I know there's room in your heart forit, Marmee dear," added Meg's tender voice.
Touched to the heart, Mrs. March could only stretch outher arms, as if to gather children and grandchildren to herself,and say, with face and voice full of motherly love, gratitude,and humility...
"Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never canwish you a greater happiness than this!"