I DONT think I have any words in which to tell the meeting of the mother and daughters; such hours are beautiful to live, but very hard to describe, so I will leave it to the imagination of my readers, merely saying that the house was full of genuine happiness, and that Megs tender hope was realized; for when Beth woke from that long, healing sleep, the first objects on which her eyes fell were the little rose and mothers face. Too weak to wonder at anything, she only smiled, and nestled close in the loving arms about her, feeling that the hungry longing was satisfied at last. Then she slept again, and the girls waited upon their mother, for she would not unclasp the thin hand which clung to hers even in sleep.
Hannah had dished up an astonishing breakfast for the traveller, finding it impossible to vent her excitement in any other way; and Meg and Jo fed their mother like dutiful young storks, while they listened to her whispered account of fathers state, Mr. Brookes promise to stay and nurse him, the delays which the storm occasioned on the homeward journey, and the unspeakable comfort Lauries hopeful face had given her when she arrived, worn out with fatigue, anxiety, and cold.
What a strange, yet pleasant day that was! so brilliant and gay without, for all the world seemed abroad to welcome the first snow; so quiet and reposeful within, for every one slept, spent with watching, and a Sabbath stillness reigned through the house, while nodding Hannah mounted guard at the door. With a blissful sense of burdens lifted off, Meg and Jo closed their weary eyes, and lay at rest, like storm-beaten boats, safe at anchor in a quiet harbor. Mrs. March would not leave Beths side, but rested in the big chair, waking often to look at, touch, and brood over her child, like a miser over some recovered treasure.
Laurie, meanwhile, posted off to comfort Amy, and told his story so well that Aunt March actually sniffed herself, and never once said, I told you so. Amy came out so strong on this occasion that I think the good thoughts in the little chapel really began to bear fruit. She dried her tears quickly, restrained her impatience to see her mother, and never even thought of the turquoise ring, when the old lady heartily agreed in Lauries opinion, that she behaved like a capital little woman. Even Polly seemed impressed, for he called her good girl, blessed her buttons, and begged her to come and take a walk, dear, in his most affable tone. She would very gladly have gone out to enjoy the bright wintry weather; but, discovering that Laurie was dropping with sleep in spite of manful efforts to conceal the fact, she persuaded him to rest on the sofa, while she wrote a note to her mother. She was a long time about it; and, when she returned, he was stretched out, with both arms under his head, sound asleep, while Aunt March had pulled down the curtains, and sat doing nothing in an unusual fit of benignity.
After a while, they began to think he was not going to wake till night, and I m not sure that he would, had he not been effectually roused by Amys cry of joy at sight of her mother. There probably were a good many happy little girls in and about the city that day, but it is my private opinion that Amy was the happiest of all, when she sat in her mothers lap and told her trials, receiving consolation and compensation in the shape of approving smiles and fond caresses. They were alone together in the chapel, to which her mother did not object when its purpose was explained to her.
On the contrary, I like it very much, dear, looking from the dusty rosary to the well-worn little book, and the lovely picture with its garland of evergreen. It is an excellent plan to have some place where we can go to be quiet, when things vex or grieve us. There are a good many hard times in this life of ours, but we can always bear them if we ask help in the right way. I think my little girl is learning this?
Yes, mother; and when I go home I mean to have a corner in the big closet to put my books, and the copy of that picture which I ve tried to make. The womans face is not good,it s too beautiful for me to draw,but the baby is done better, and I love it very much. I like to think He was a little child once, for then I dont seem so far away, and that helps me.
As Amy pointed to the smiling Christ-child on his mothers knee, Mrs. March saw something on the lifted hand that made her smile. She said nothing, but Amy understood the look, and, after a minutes pause, she added gravely,
I wanted to speak to you about this, but I forgot it. Aunt gave me the ring to-day; she called me to her and kissed me, and put it on my finger, and said I was a credit to her, and she d like to keep me always. She gave that funny guard to keep the turquoise on, as it s too big. I d like to wear them, mother; can I?
They are very pretty, but I think you re rather too young for such ornaments, Amy, said Mrs. March, looking at the plump little hand, with the band of sky-blue stones on the forefinger, and the quaint guard, formed of two tiny, golden hands clasped together.
I ve thought a great deal lately about my bundle of naughties, and being selfish is the largest one in it; so I m going to try hard to cure it, if I can. Beth is nt selfish, and that s the reason every one loves her and feels so bad at the thoughts of losing her. People would nt feel half so bad about me if I was sick, and I dont deserve to have them; but I d like to be loved and missed by a great many friends, so I m going to try and be like Beth all I can. I m apt to forget my resolutions; but if I had something always about me to remind me, I guess I should do better. May I try this way?
Yes; but I have more faith in the corner of the big closet. Wear your ring, dear, and do your best; I think you will prosper, for the sincere wish to be good is half the battle. Now I must go back to Beth. Keep up your heart, little daughter, and we will soon have you home again.
That evening, while Meg was writing to her father, to report the travellers safe arrival, Jo slipped upstairs into Beths room, and, finding her mother in her usual place, stood a minute twisting her fingers in her hair, with a worried gesture and an undecided look.
No, I should have shut the door in his face if he had, said Jo, settling herself on the floor at her mothers feet. Last summer Meg left a pair of gloves over at the Laurences, and only one was returned. We forgot all about it, till Teddy told me that Mr. Brooke had it. He kept it in his waistcoat pocket, and once it fell out, and Teddy joked him about it, and Mr. Brooke owned that he liked Meg, but did nt dare say so, she was so young and he so poor. Now, is nt it a dreadful state of things?
Mercy me! I dont know anything about love and such nonsense! cried Jo, with a funny mixture of interest and contempt. In novels, the girls show it by starting and blushing, fainting away, growing thin, and acting like fools. Now Meg does not do anything of the sort; she eats and drinks and sleeps, like a sensible creature; she looks straight in my face when I talk about that man, and only blushes a little bit when Teddy jokes about lovers. I forbid him to do it, but he does nt mind me as he ought.
Oh, dear! I know you ll take his part: he s been good to father, and you wont send him away, but let Meg marry him, if she wants to. Mean thing! to go petting papa and helping you, just to wheedle you into liking him; and Jo pulled her hair again with a wrathful tweak.
My dear, dont get angry about it, and I will tell you how it happened. John went with me at Mr. Laurences request, and was so devoted to poor father that we could nt help getting fond of him. He was perfectly open and honorable about Meg, for he told us he loved her, but would earn a comfortable home before he asked her to marry him. He only wanted our leave to love her and work for her, and the right to make her love him if he could. He is a truly excellent young man, and we could not refuse to listen to him; but I will not consent to Megs engaging herself so young.
This odd arrangement made Mrs. March smile; but she said gravely, Jo, I confide in you, and dont wish you to say anything to Meg yet. When John comes back, and I see them together, I can judge better of her feelings toward him.
She ll see his in those handsome eyes that she talks about, and then it will be all up with her. She s got such a soft heart, it will melt like butter in the sun if any one looks sentimentally at her. She read the short reports he sent more than she did your letters, and pinched me when I spoke of it, and likes brown eyes, and does nt think John an ugly name, and she ll go and fall in love, and there s an end of peace and fun, and cosey times together. I see it all! they ll go lovering around the house, and we shall have to dodge; Meg will be absorbed, and no good to me any more; Brooke will scratch up a fortune somehow, carry her off, and make a hole in the family; and I shall break my heart, and everything will be abominably uncomfortable. Oh, dear me! why were nt we all boys, then there would nt be any bother.
I did wrong to sigh, Jo. It is natural and right you should all go to homes of your own, in time; but I do want to keep my girls as long as I can; and I am sorry that this happened so soon, for Meg is only seventeen, and it will be some years before John can make a home for her. Your father and I have agreed that she shall not bind herself in any way, nor be married, before twenty. If she and John love one another, they can wait, and test the love by doing so. She is conscientious, and I have no fear of her treating him unkindly. My pretty, tender-hearted girl! I hope things will go happily with her.
Money is a good and useful thing, Jo; and I hope my girls will never feel the need of it too bitterly, nor be tempted by too much. I should like to know that John was firmly established in some good business, which gave him an income large enough to keep free from debt and make Meg comfortable. I m not ambitious for a splendid fortune, a fashionable position, or a great name for my girls. If rank and money come with love and virtue, also, I should accept them gratefully, and enjoy your good fortune; but I know, by experience, how much genuine happiness can be had in a plain little house, where the daily bread is earned, and some privations give sweetness to the few pleasures. I am content to see Meg begin humbly, for, if I am not mistaken, she will be rich in the possession of a good mans heart, and that is better than a fortune.
I understand, mother, and quite agree; but I m disappointed about Meg, for I d planned to have her marry Teddy by and by, and sit in the lap of luxury all her days. Would nt it be nice? asked Jo, looking up, with a brighter face.
Only a little; he s old for his age, and tall; and can be quite grown-up in his manners if he likes. Then he s rich and generous and good, and loves us all; and I say it s a pity my plan is spoilt.
I m afraid Laurie is hardly grown up enough for Meg, and altogether too much of a weathercock, just now, for any one to depend on. Dont make plans, Jo; but let time and their own hearts mate your friends. We cant meddle safely in such matters, and had better not get romantic rubbish, as you call it, into our heads, lest it spoil our friendship.
Well, I wont; but I hate to see things going all criss-cross and getting snarled up, when a pull here and a snip there would straighten it out. I wish wearing flat-irons on our heads would keep us from growing up. But buds will be roses, and kittens, cats,more s the pity!