JO was very busy in the garret, for the October days began to grow chilly, and the afternoons were short. For two or three hours the sun lay warmly in the high window, showing Jo seated on the old sofa, writing busily, with her papers spread out upon a trunk before her, while Scrabble, the pet rat, promenaded the beams overhead, accompanied by his oldest son, a fine young fellow, who was evidently very proud of his whiskers. Quite absorbed in her work, Jo scribbled away till the last page was filled, when she signed her name with a flourish, and threw down her pen, exclaiming,
Lying back on the sofa, she read the manuscript carefully through, making dashes here and there, and putting in many exclamation points, which looked like little balloons; then she tied it up with a smart red ribbon, and sat a minute looking at it with a sober, wistful expression, which plainly showed how earnest her work had been. Jos desk up here was an old tin kitchen, which hung against the wall. In it she kept her papers, and a few books, safely shut away from Scrabble, who, being likewise of a literary turn, was fond of making a circulating library of such books as were left in his way, by eating the leaves. From this tin receptacle Jo produced another manuscript; and, putting both in her pocket, crept quietly down stairs, leaving her friends to nibble her pens and taste her ink.
She put on her hat and jacket as noiselessly as possible, and, going to the back entry window, got out upon the roof of a low porch, swung herself down to the grassy bank, and took a roundabout way to the road. Once there, she composed herself, hailed a passing omnibus, and rolled away to town, looking very merry and mysterious.
If any one had been watching her, he would have thought her movements decidedly peculiar; for, on alighting, she went off at a great pace till she reached a certain number in a certain busy street; having found the place with some difficulty, she went into the door-way, looked up the dirty stairs, and, after standing stock still a minute, suddenly dived into the street, and walked away as rapidly as she came. This manuvre she repeated several times, to the great amusement of a black-eyed young gentleman lounging in the window of a building opposite. On returning for the third time, Jo gave herself a shake, pulled her hat over her eyes, and walked up the stairs, looking as if she were going to have all her teeth out.
There was a dentists sign, among others, which adorned the entrance, and, after staring a moment at the pair of artificial jaws which slowly opened and shut to draw attention to a fine set of teeth, the young gentleman put on his coat, took his hat, and went down to post himself in the opposite doorway, saying, with a smile and a shiver,
In ten minutes Jo came running down stairs with a very red face, and the general appearance of a person who had just passed through a trying ordeal of some sort. When she saw the young gentleman she looked anything but pleased, and passed him with a nod; but he followed, asking, with an air of sympathy,
I ll teach you whether we play Hamlet or not; it s grand fun, and will straighten you up capitally. But I dont believe that was your only reason for saying I m glad, in that decided way; was it now?
Oh dear, I m so sorry, for you ll get to liking it better and better, and will waste time and money, and grow like those dreadful boys. I did hope you d stay respectable, and be a satisfaction to your friends, said Jo, shaking her head.
That depends upon how and where he takes it. I dont like Ned and his set, and wish you d keep out of it. Mother wont let us have him at our house, though he wants to come; and if you grow like him she wont be willing to have us frolic together as we do now.
I cant bear saints: just be a simple, honest, respectable boy, and we ll never desert you. I dont know what I should do if you acted like Mr. Kings son; he had plenty of money, but did nt know how to spend it, and got tipsy and gambled, and ran away, and forged his fathers name, I believe, and was altogether horrid.
Hurrah for Miss March, the celebrated American authoress! cried Laurie, throwing up his hat and catching it again, to the great delight of two ducks, four cats, five hens, and half a dozen Irish children; for they were out of the city now.
It wont fail. Why, Jo, your stories are works of Shakespeare, compared to half the rubbish that is published every day. Wont it be fun to see them in print; and shant we feel proud of our authoress?
Laurie bent, and whispered three words in Jos ear, which produced a comical change. She stood and stared at him for a minute, looking both surprised and displeased, then walked on, saying sharply, How do you know?
No one was in sight; the smooth road sloped invitingly before her; and finding the temptation irresistible, Jo darted away, soon leaving hat and comb behind her, and scattering hair-pins as she ran. Laurie reached the goal first, and was quite satisfied with the success of his treatment; for his Atalanta came panting up, with flying hair, bright eyes, ruddy cheeks, and no signs of dissatisfaction in her face.
I wish I was a horse; then I could run for miles in this splendid air, and not lose my breath. It was capital; but see what a guy it s made me. Go, pick up my things, like a cherub as you are, said Jo, dropping down under a maple-tree, which was carpeting the bank with crimson leaves.
Laurie leisurely departed to recover the lost property, and Jo bundled up her braids, hoping no one would pass by till she was tidy again. But some one did pass, and who should it be but Meg, looking particularly ladylike in her state and festival suit, for she had been making calls.
Never till I m stiff and old, and have to use a crutch. Dont try to make me grow up before my time, Meg: it s hard enough to have you change all of a sudden; let me be a little girl as long as I can.
As she spoke, Jo bent over the leaves to hide the trembling of her lips; for lately she had felt that Margaret was fast getting to be a woman, and Lauries secret made her dread the separation which must surely come some time, and now seemed very near. He saw the trouble in her face, and drew Megs attention from it by asking quickly, Where have you been calling, all so fine?
I shall never go and marry any one, observed Meg, walking on with great dignity, while the others followed, laughing, whispering, skipping stones, and behaving like children, as Meg said to herself, though she might have been tempted to join them if she had not had her best dress on.
For a week or two, Jo behaved so queerly that her sisters were quite bewildered. She rushed to the door when the postman rang; was rude to Mr. Brooke whenever they met; would sit looking at Meg with a woe-begone face, occasionally jumping up to shake, and then to kiss her, in a very mysterious manner; Laurie and she were always making signs to one another, and talking about Spread Eagles, till the girls declared they had both lost their wits. On the second Saturday after Jo got out of the window, Meg, as she sat sewing at her window, was scandalized by the sight of Laurie chasing Jo all over the garden, and finally capturing her in Amys bower. What went on there, Meg could not see; but shrieks of laughter were heard, followed by the murmur of voices and a great flapping of newspapers.
It s very trying, but we never can make her commy la fo, added Amy, who sat making some new frills for herself, with her curls tied up in a very becoming way,two agreeable things, which made her feel unusually elegant and ladylike.
Dear me, how delighted they all were, to be sure! how Meg would nt believe it till she saw the words, Miss Josephine March, actually printed in the paper; how graciously Amy criticised the artistic parts of the story, and offered hints for a sequel, which unfortunately could nt be carried out, as the hero and heroine were dead; how Beth got excited, and skipped and sung with joy; how Hannah came in to exclaim Sakes alive, well I never! in great astonishment at that Jos doins; how proud Mrs. March was when she knew it; how Jo laughed, with tears in her eyes, as she declared she might as well be a peacock and done with it; and how the Spread Eagle might be said to flap his wings triumphantly over the House of March, as the paper passed from hand to hand.
Tell us about it. When did it come? How much did you get for it? What will father say? Wont Laurie laugh? cried the family, all in one breath, as they clustered about Jo; for these foolish, affectionate people made a jubilee of every little household joy.
Stop jabbering, girls, and I ll tell you everything, said Jo, wondering if Miss Burney felt any grander over her Evelina than she did over her Rival Painters. Having told how she disposed of her tales, Jo added, And when I went to get my answer, the man said he liked them both, but did nt pay beginners, only let them print in his paper, and noticed the stories. It was good practice, he said; and when the beginners improved, any one would pay. So I let him have the two stories, and to-day this was sent to me, and Laurie caught me with it, and insisted on seeing it, so I let him; and he said it was good, and I shall write more, and he s going to get the next paid for, and I am so happy, for in time I may be able to support myself and help the girls.
Jos breath gave out here; and wrapping her head in the paper, she bedewed her little story with a few natural tears; for to be independent, and earn the praise of those she loved were the dearest wishes of her heart, and this seemed to be the first step toward that happy end.