JOS face was a study next day, for the secret rather weighed upon her, and she found it hard not to look mysterious and important. Meg observed it, but did not trouble herself to make inquiries, for she had learned that the best way to manage Jo was by the law of contraries, so she felt sure of being told everything if she did not ask. She was rather surprised, therefore, when the silence remained unbroken, and Jo assumed a patronizing air, which decidedly aggravated Meg, who in her turn assumed an air of dignified reserve, and devoted herself to her mother. This left Jo to her own devices; for Mrs. March had taken her place as nurse, and bade her rest, exercise, and amuse herself after her long confinement. Amy being gone, Laurie was her only refuge; and, much as she enjoyed his society, she rather dreaded him just then, for he was an incorrigible tease, and she feared he would coax the secret from her.
She was quite right; for the mischief-loving lad no sooner suspected a mystery than he set himself to find it out, and led Jo a trying life of it. He wheedled, bribed, ridiculed, threatened, and scolded; affected indifference, that he might surprise the truth from her; declared he knew, then that he did nt care; and, at last, by dint of perseverance, he satisfied himself that it concerned Meg and Mr. Brooke. Feeling indignant that he was not taken into his tutors confidence, he set his wits to work to devise some proper retaliation for the slight.
Meg meanwhile had apparently forgotten the matter, and was absorbed in preparations for her fathers return; but all of a sudden a change seemed to come over her, and, for a day or two, she was quite unlike herself. She started when spoken to, blushed when looked at, was very quiet, and sat over her sewing, with a timid, troubled look on her face. To her mothers inquiries she answered that she was quite well, and Jos she silenced by begging to be let alone.
She feels it in the airlove, I meanand she s going very fast. She s got most of the symptoms,is twittery and cross, does nt eat, lies awake, and mopes in corners. I caught her singing that song he gave her, and once she said John, as you do, and then turned as red as a poppy. Whatever shall we do? said Jo, looking ready for any measures, however violent.
Jo hardly heard her, for she and her mother were reading the note, which was written in a peculiar hand.
MY DEAREST MARGARET,
I can no longer restrain my passion, and must know my fate before I return. I dare not tell your parents yet, but I think they would consent if they knew that we adored one another. Mr. Laurence will help me to some good place, and then, my sweet girl, you will make me happy. I implore you to say nothing to your family yet, but to send one word of hope through Laurie to
Oh, the little villain! that s the way he meant to pay me for keeping my word to mother. I ll give him a hearty scolding, and bring him over to beg pardon, cried Jo, burning to execute immediate justice. But her mother held her back, saying, with a look she seldom wore,
On my word, mother, I have nt! I never saw that note before, and dont know anything about it, as true as I live! said Jo, so earnestly that they believed her. If I had taken a part in it I d have done it better than this, and have written a sensible note. I should think you d have known Mr. Brooke would nt write such stuff as that, she added, scornfully tossing down the paper.
I received the first letter from Laurie, who did nt look as if he knew anything about it, began Meg, without looking up. I was worried at first, and meant to tell you; then I remembered how you liked Mr. Brooke, so I thought you would nt mind if I kept my little secret for a few days. I m so silly that I liked to think no one knew; and, while I was deciding what to say, I felt like the girls in books, who have such things to do. Forgive me, mother, I m paid for my silliness now; I never can look him in the face again.
I only said I was too young to do anything about it yet; that I did nt wish to have secrets from you, and he must speak to father. I was very grateful for his kindness, and would be his friend, but nothing more, for a long while.
He writes in a different way entirely, telling me that he never sent any love-letter at all, and is very sorry that my roguish sister, Jo, should take such liberties with our names. It s very kind and respectful, but think how dreadful for me!
Meg leaned against her mother, looking the image of despair, and Jo tramped about the room, calling Laurie names. All of a sudden she stopped, caught up the two notes, and, after looking at them closely, said decidedly, I dont believe Brooke ever saw either of these letters. Teddy wrote both, and keeps yours to crow over me with, because I would nt tell him my secret.
Away ran Jo, and Mrs. March gently told Meg Mr. Brookes real feelings. Now, dear, what are your own? Do you love him enough to wait till he can make a home for you, or will you keep yourself quite free for the present?
I ve been so scared and worried, I dont want to have anything to do with lovers for a long while,perhaps never, answered Meg petulantly. If John does nt know anything about this nonsense, dont tell him, and make Jo and Laurie hold their tongues. I wont be deceived and plagued and made a fool of,it s a shame!
Seeing that Megs usually gentle temper was roused and her pride hurt by this mischievous joke, Mrs. March soothed her by promises of entire silence, and great discretion for the future. The instant Lauries step was heard in the hall, Meg fled into the study, and Mrs. March received the culprit alone. Jo had not told him why he was wanted, fearing he would nt come; but he knew the minute he saw Mrs. Marchs face, and stood twirling his hat, with a guilty air which convicted him at once. Jo was dismissed, but chose to march up and down the hall like a sentinel, having some fear that the prisoner might bolt. The sound of voices in the parlor rose and fell for half an hour; but what happened during that interview the girls never knew.
When they were called in, Laurie was standing by their mother, with such a penitent face that Jo forgave him on the spot, but did not think it wise to betray the fact. Meg received his humble apology, and was much comforted by the assurance that Brooke knew nothing of the joke.
I ll never tell him to my dying day,wild horses shant drag it out of me; so you ll forgive me, Meg, and I ll do anything to show how out-and-out sorry I am, he added, looking very much ashamed of himself.
It was altogether abominable, and I dont deserve to be spoken to for a month; but you will, though, wont you? and Laurie folded his hands together with such an imploring gesture, as he spoke in his irresistibly persuasive tone, that it was impossible to frown upon him, in spite of his scandalous behavior. Meg pardoned him, and Mrs. Marchs grave face relaxed, in spite of her efforts to keep sober, when she heard him declare that he would atone for his sins by all sorts of penances, and abase himself like a worm before the injured damsel.
Jo stood aloof, meanwhile, trying to harden her heart against him, and succeeding only in primming up her face into an expression of entire disapprobation. Laurie looked at her once or twice, but as she showed no sign of relenting, he felt injured, and turned his back on her till the others were done with him, when he made her a low bow, and walked off without a word.
As soon as he had gone, she wished she had been more forgiving; and when Meg and her mother went upstairs, she felt lonely, and longed for Teddy. After resisting for some time, she yielded to the impulse, and, armed with a book to return, went over to the big house.
Jo immediately knocked again; the door flew open, and in she bounced, before Laurie could recover from his surprise. Seeing that he really was out of temper, Jo, who knew how to manage him, assumed a contrite expression, and going artistically down upon her knees, said meekly, Please forgive me for being so cross. I came to make it up, and cant go away till I have.
No; he would have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I d have told my part of the scrape, if I could without bringing Meg in. As I could nt, I held my tongue, and bore the scolding till the old gentleman collared me. Then I got angry, and bolted, for fear I should forget myself.
Hanged if I do! I m not going to be lectured and pummelled by every one, just for a bit of a frolic. I was sorry about Meg, and begged pardon like a man; but I wont do it again, when I was nt in the wrong.
Come on, then! Why not? You go and surprise your father, and I ll stir up old Brooke. It would be a glorious joke; let s do it, Jo. We ll leave a letter saying we are all right, and trot off at once. I ve got money enough; it will do you good, and be no harm, as you go to your father.
For a moment Jo looked as if she would agree; for, wild as the plan was, it just suited her. She was tired of care and confinement, longed for change, and thoughts of her father blended temptingly with the novel charms of camps and hospitals, liberty and fun. Her eyes kindled as they turned wistfully toward the window, but they fell on the old house opposite, and she shook her head with sorrowful decision.
Hold your tongue! cried Jo, covering her ears. Prunes and prisms are my doom, and I may as well make up my mind to it. I came here to moralize, not to hear about things that make me skip to think of.
Yes, please. I like old Sam so well, I think I ll try the second volume, returned Jo, hoping to propitiate him by accepting a second dose of Boswells Johnson, as he had recommended that lively work.
The shaggy eyebrows unbent a little, as he rolled the steps toward the shelf where the Johnsonian literature was placed. Jo skipped up, and, sitting on the top step, affected to be searching for her book, but was really wondering how best to introduce the dangerous object of her visit. Mr. Laurence seemed to suspect that something was brewing in her mind; for, after taking several brisk turns about the room, he faced round on her, speaking so abruptly that Rasselas tumbled face downward on the floor.
What has that boy been about? Dont try to shield him. I know he has been in mischief by the way he acted when he came home. I cant get a word from him; and when I threatened to shake the truth out of him he bolted upstairs, and locked himself into his room.
That wont do; he shall not shelter himself behind a promise from you soft-hearted girls. If he s done anything amiss, he shall confess, beg pardon, and be punished. Out with it, Jo, I wont be kept in the dark.
Mr. Laurence looked so alarming and spoke so sharply that Jo would have gladly run away, if she could, but she was perched aloft on the steps, and he stood at the foot, a lion in the path, so she had to stay and brave it out.
Indeed, sir, I cannot tell; mother forbade it. Laurie has confessed, asked pardon, and been punished quite enough. We dont keep silence to shield him, but some one else, and it will make more trouble if you interfere. Please dont; it was partly my fault, but it s all right now; so let s forget it, and talk about the Rambler, or something pleasant.
Hang the Rambler! come down and give me your word that this harum-scarum boy of mine has nt done anything ungrateful or impertinent. If he has, after all your kindness to him, I ll thrash him with my own hands.
The threat sounded awful, but did not alarm Jo, for she knew the irascible old gentleman would never lift a finger against his grandson, whatever he might say to the contrary. She obediently descended, and made as light of the prank as she could without betraying Meg or forgetting the truth.
Humhawell, if the boy held his tongue because he promised, and not from obstinacy, I ll forgive him. He s a stubborn fellow, and hard to manage, said Mr. Laurence, rubbing up his hair till it looked as if he had been out in a gale, and smoothing the frown from his brow with an air of relief.
So am I; but a kind word will govern me when all the kings horses and all the kings men could nt, said Jo, trying to say a kind word for her friend, who seemed to get out of one scrape only to fall into another.
Jo was determined to have it out now, and tried to look quite placid, though she quaked a little after her bold speech. To her great relief and surprise, the old gentleman only threw his spectacles on to the table with a rattle, and exclaimed frankly,
I ll tell you, he ll run away. Jo was sorry for that speech the minute it was made; she meant to warn him that Laurie would not bear much restraint, and hoped he would be more forbearing with the lad.
Mr. Laurences ruddy face changed suddenly, and he sat down, with a troubled glance at the picture of a handsome man, which hung over his table. It was Lauries father, who had run away in his youth, and married against the imperious old mans will. Jo fancied he remembered and regretted the past, and she wished she had held her tongue.
He wont do it unless he is very much worried, and only threatens it sometimes, when he gets tired of studying. I often think I should like to, especially since my hair was cut; so, if you ever miss us, you may advertise for two boys, and look among the ships bound for India.
You hussy, how dare you talk in that way? Where s your respect for me, and your proper bringing up? Bless the boys and girls! What torments they are; yet we cant do without them, he said, pinching her cheeks good-humoredly. Go and bring that boy down to his dinner, tell him it s all right, and advise him not to put on tragedy airs with his grandfather. I wont bear it.
If I were you, I d write him an apology, sir. He says he wont come down till he has one, and talks about Washington, and goes on in an absurd way. A formal apology will make him see how foolish he is, and bring him down quite amiable. Try it; he likes fun, and this way is better than talking. I ll carry it up, and teach him his duty.
Mr. Laurence gave her a sharp look, and put on his spectacles, saying slowly, You re a sly puss, but I dont mind being managed by you and Beth. Here, give me a bit of paper, and let us have done with this nonsense.
The note was written in the terms which one gentleman would use to another after offering some deep insult. Jo dropped a kiss on the top of Mr. Laurences bald head, and ran up to slip the apology under Lauries door, advising him, through the key-hole, to be submissive, decorous, and a few other agreeable impossibilities. Finding the door locked again, she left the note to do its work, and was going quietly away, when the young gentleman slid down the banisters, and waited for her at the bottom, saying, with his most virtuous expression of countenance, What a good fellow you are, Jo! Did you get blown up? he added, laughing.
That s a label on my sect, answered Laurie, quoting Amy, as he went to partake of humble-pie dutifully with his grandfather, who was quite saintly in temper and overwhelmingly respectful in manner all the rest of the day.
Every one thought the matter ended and the little cloud blown over; but the mischief was done, for, though others forgot it, Meg remembered. She never alluded to a certain person, but she thought of him a good deal, dreamed dreams more than ever; and once Jo, rummaging her sisters desk for stamps, found a bit of paper scribbled over with the words, Mrs. John Brooke; whereat she groaned tragically, and cast it into the fire, feeling that Lauries prank had hastened the evil day for her.